What is Biomass and should I be using it?
If you’ve ever been to a bonfire night or mulched down some manure – chances are you’ve already used Biomass fuels.
Put simply – Biomass is any form of organic matter, whether it be animal waste products, wood or even wheat. One of the oldest forms of energy known to man (except the Sun, of course) – we’ve been using it since the dawn of civilisation to heat our homes, cook our food and illuminate the dark.
All biomass energy is derived from the Sun – without it, we would have nothing. The sunlight activates the chlorphyll inside the leaves of plants – creating the chemical reaction that converts water and carbon dioxide into the oxygen and sugar that they need to grow.
The sugars and carbohydrates that are contained in these plants are excellent sources of energy for animals and people – they also happen to burn very well – giving us the heat and light that were paramount to our early successes as human beings.
Now, we have developed more efficient, streamlined methods of processing and burning Biomass – allowing us to gain greater control over this quickly developing form of renewable energy.
Here are the 4 main categories of Biomass Fuels, so you can work out what’s best for you:
Although it might not seem like the most environmentally friendly way of supplying energy to your home or farm, there are literally tons of usable fuel trapped within the trash that is thrown away from both the domestic and commercial sectors each year.
On average 2,000 pounds of your average garbage can produce the equivalent heat energy of 500 pounds of coal. However, it’s important to remember that using waste product as a fuel is not completely renewable, as certain elements of rubbish (plastics or petroleum) are not classed as biomass.
Landfill Gas & Biogas
The decomposition of any biological matter is a chemical process. Fungi and bacteria eat away at dead matter, animals and food waste – converting the cellulose to sugar which feeds the hungry cells.
The by-product of this lovely process? Methane gas! It may be colourless and odourless, but it is certainly not harmless – it can easily be ignited causing explosions and fires. That’s why this gas is collected by landfills and then sold on to produce electricity that can light a house or cook a meal.
Wood and Agricultural Waste
One of the oldest forms of Biofuel known to man, burning wood for fire and light is a no-brainer – but over the centuries we’ve figured out smarter, more efficient ways of doing it. From straight-up wood logs to premium wood pellets, there are plenty of options.
The waste from wood-based industries can now be effectively processed into small, uniform piece, perfect for burning in custom made wood pellet burners that blast energy back into the industries that have caused the waste in the first place.
Ethanol & Biodiesel
Two forms of Biofuel that are growing increasingly popular over the water in the States, both ethanol and biodiesel involve the fostering of chemical reactions using alcohol to obtain energy. Creating ethanol requires the fermentation then distillation of sugars and starches, mostly found in corn.
Ethanol only makes up a fraction of the final fuel product (around 15%) whereas Biodiesel (America’s fastest growing transportation fuel) can be blended with petroleum diesel up to 20% and can even be used in it’s ‘neat’ form using modified engines.
For more information and ideas on how best to utilise Biofuels –
One-page infographic style print out from need.org
Government sourced collection of statistics on Biofuels
Government funded information centre on Biofuel sources…