Biomass is biological material from living, or recently living organisms, most often referring to plants or plant-derived materials. In other works, basically anything that is, or was, a plant. Some common examples of biomass are grass, hay, corn stalks, trees, sawdust, wood, veggies, single cell algae, giant red woods, and the list goes on and on. You get the idea!
Biomass has great importance to us and the the whole earth. Biomass provides food and energy for living things from fish, to elephants, cattle, and even people. Of particular interest on this website is using biomass for renewable energy. Some say the good ole United States could be completely energy self-sufficient in less than ten years by replacing petroleum hydrocarbon based fuels with fuels from a wide range of biomass.
Another benefits of use biomass for renewable fuel is a reduced carbon foot-print and reduced “green-house gas” emissions. Burning petroleum hydrocarbons or coal release carbon to the environment that has be bound up for many many years. Plants, on the other hand, remove carbon in the form of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. So, when biomass is converted to energy no NEW carbon or carbon dioxide is released.
As a renewable energy source, biomass can either be used directly, or indirectly—once or converted into another type of energy product such as biofuel. Biomass can be converted to energy in three ways: thermal conversion, chemical conversion, and biochemical conversion.
Based on the source of biomass, biofuels are classified broadly into two major categories: First generation biofuels and Second generation biofuels.
First generation biofuels are derived from sources such as sugarcane, grains, corn, and corn starch etc. Sugars present in these biomass are fermented to produce bioethanol, an alcohol fuel. Which can be used directly in a fuel cell to produce electricity or serve as an additive to gasoline. However, utilizing food based resource for fuel production aggravates food shortage problem.
Second generation biofuels on the other hand utilize non food based biomass sources such as agriculture and municipal waste. It mostly consists of lignocellulosic biomass which is not edible and is a low value waste for many industries. Despite being the favored alternative, production of second generation biofuel is not yet achieved the target economical goals due to technological issues. These issues arise mainly due to chemical inertness and structural rigidity of lignocellulosic biomass.
There is, however, current, widely used technology to convert lignocellulosic biomass into bioethanol. Current technology can be improved, of course, but it remains a viable, logical, and feesible method to reduce and/or eliminate our dependance of foreign, non-ally petroleum. Biomass can also be pellitized, pressed into briquettes, gasified, and burned directly.
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