Biomass is an attractive energy source for a number of reasons. First, it is a renewable energy source generated both through natural processes or as a byproduct of human activity. It is also more evenly distributed over the earth’s surface than fossil fuel energy sources, and may be harnessed using more cost effective technologies. It provides us the opportunity to be more energy self-sufficient and helps to reduce climate change (global warming). And lastly, it helps U.S. farmers, ranchers and foresters better manage waste material, providing rural job opportunities and stimulating new economic opportunities.
Prior to the industrial revolution, biomass satisfied nearly all of man’s energy demands. Up until the 1860s, the U.S. used biomass, in the form of wood, for nearly 91% of all energy consumption. In 1992 biomass generated $1.8 billion in personal and corporate income and employed 66,000 workers. Although presently the majority of humankind’s energy requirements are fulfilled by fossil fuel combustion, 14% of the world still utilizes biomass. In a recent DOE study, a full 73% of all energy consumed by US manufacturing was through boilers and burners which are principally fueled by natural gas or fuel oil, but highly adaptable to solid fuel usage.
• Biomass used for combined heat and power (CHP) is 70-80% efficient as compared to just electricity generation, which is 10% to 25%.
• Biomass can be used continuously, as opposed to solar and wind which are intermittent.
• Using renewable fuels such as biomass typically cuts natural gas costs by 2/3 based on equivalent btu.
• Gasification, a process by which to convert biomass into thermal energy has lower emissions compared to other solid fuel combustion technologies.
Viable Sources and Types
• Agricultural crops not dedicated for food production
• Grassy and woody plants
• Residues from agriculture or forestry activities
• Organic components of municipal wastes
• Industrial wastes with a calorific value
• Municipal solid waste
• Municipal sludges
• Animal wastes
• And a growing number of opportunity fuels