Manual What is Biomass Energy

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Bacteria feed on dead plants and animals, producing a gas called methane. This is a natural process that happens whenever waste decays. Methane is the same thing as natural gas, the gas sold by natural gas utilities. Adding a yeast to biomass produces an alcohol called ethanol. This is how wine, beer, and liquor are made. Wine is just fermented grape juice. Biomass can be converted into gas or liquid fuels by using chemicals or heat.

Bioenergy (Biofuels and Biomass)

In India, cow manure is converted to methane gas to produce electricity. Methane gas can also be converted to methanol, a liquid form of methane. We use four types of biomass today: 1 wood and agricultural products; 2 solid waste; 3 landfill gas; and 4 alcohol fuels. Most biomass used today is home grown energy. Wood-logs, chips, bark, and sawdust-accounts for about 79 percent of biomass energy.

But any organic matter can produce. Other biomass sources include agricultural waste products like fruit pits and corn cobs.


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There is nothing new about people burning trash. What's new is burning trash to generate electricity. This turns waste into a usable form of energy. A ton 2, pounds of garbage contains about as much heat energy, as pounds of coal. Power plants that burn garbage for energy are called waste-to-energy plants. These plants generate electricity much as coal-fired plants do except that garbage-not coal-is the fuel used to fire an industrial boiler. Making electricity from garbage costs more than making it from coal and other energy sources.

The main advantage of burning solid waste is it reduces the amount of garbage dumped in landfills by 60 to 90 percent, and reduces the cost of landfill disposal. Bacteria and fungi are not picky eaters. They eat dead plants and animals, causing them to rot or decay.

Even though this natural process is slowed in the artificial environment of a landfill, a substance called methane gas is still produced as the waste decays. New regulations require landfills to collect methane gas for safety and environmental reasons.

BioMass Energy

Methane gas is colorless and odorless, but it is not harmless. The gas can cause fires or explosions if it seeps into nearby homes and is ignited.

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Landfills can collect the methane gas, purify it, and then use it as an energy source. Methane, which is the same thing as natural gas, is a good energy source. Most gas furnaces and gas stoves use methane supplied by natural gas utility companies. The city landfill in Florence, Alabama recovers 32 million cubic feet of methane gas a day.

Benefits of Biomass

The city purifies the gas and then pumps it into natural gas pipelines. Today only a tiny portion of landfill gas is used to provide energy. Most is burned off at the landfill.


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With today's low natural gas prices, this higher-priced "biogas" has a hard time competing. Wheat, corn, and other crops can be converted into a variety of liquid fuels including ethanol and methanol.

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Biomass - Wikipedia

Using ethanol as a motor fuel is nothing new. Its use is almost as old as the automobile. In the early 20th century, automobile pioneer Henry Ford advocated using gasohol, a mixture of ethanol and gasoline, to run his cars. When biomass is burned, this stored energy is released as heat. Burning biomass releases carbon dioxide.


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However, plants also take carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and use it to grow their leaves, flowers, branches, and stems. That same carbon dioxide is returned to the air when the plants are burned. Many different kinds of biomass, such as wood chips, corn, and some types of garbage, are used to produce electricity. Some types of biomass can be converted into liquid fuels called biofuels that can power cars, trucks, and tractors.

Biomass energy explained

Leftover food products like vegetable oils and animal fats can create biodiesel, while corn, sugarcane, and other plants can be fermented to produce ethanol. A student's guide to Global Climate Change. Be Part of the Solution! Cool Facts Energy from trees.