What is Biomass Energy?

I think one of the most important discussions we as a world should be having is about energy sources. We need to be investigating all of our options so that energy can be cheaper, more reliable, more efficient, and safer for both all of us and our environment.People need to be educated about alternative energy sources like solar and wind power. This includes other terms that they might not be so familiar with, like biomass energy. Many people have never heard of biomass energy, and disregard it out of hand because it sounds complicated and new. However, in actuality, it is a source that we as people have been using forever.

The process is actually rather simple. We all understand photosynthesis: plants gather and store energy from the sun, using light to nourish itself and grow. With the help of something like combustion, we can release that energy in the form of carbon dioxide. We can then utilize the energy created for heat or for power. Basically, that is a fancy scientific answer to something cavemen figured out eons ago: we can take a log from a tree and burn it to create heat.

That means if you’ve ever sat around a campfire or have a pellet stove, you have used biomass energy to stay warm. If you’ve used charcoal briquettes in your barbeque grill, you were cooking with biomass. It is a source of energy that man has been using instinctively since the beginning of recorded time. It was our first method for providing heat and light, and eventually even power—many steam engines relied on biomass to heat the water that would then generate steam.

The most common sources of biomass are wood products—for example, stump harvesting or scraps from lumber mills, dried vegetation from excess crops, or aquatic plant matter. Plants and trees are readily available, and it is easy to maintain supply when we are diligent about lifecycles and replanting. It allows us to use what would have been waste in a productive way.

There are some drawbacks to using biomass. There will always be pollution concerns with combustion. Distribution of materials is also a concern—biomass material can be bulky and heavy, which means they take up more space in transport and storage. Also, the sheer number of crops and trees it would take to power a city would be very large, and growing such vast qualities of plant matter has the potential to eventually strip the soil of any nutrients, making it impossible to grow on anymore.

While biomass energy is unlikely to ever overtake our dependence on fossil fuels, as an alternative source of energy—just like solar or wind energy—it is a great supplemental source.