Biomass, an incredible source of energy

by Marie DHUICQ on April 29, 2012

The field of energy production is uncertain as we do not really know when fossil fuels reserves for gas, coal or oil will be depleted. Therefore, it is important to search for alternative ways to produce energy as the sustainability of every nation depends on it. Renewable energy sources are a good alternative to fossil fuels energy, but most of the producing technologies (i.e. solar CSP and PV, wind turbines) are still relatively expensive. One of the few exceptions to this rule for renewable sources is biomass. From the beginning of humanity, biomass has been used to produce heat by burning raw materials like wood or straw.

With the industrial revolution, things though have changed a lot causing a hike in energy consumption. In addition, the production methods adopted due to the industrial revolution result to significant energy waste (i.e. heat) that could have ideally be used for other purposes. For example, in agriculture, which exists in almost every part of the world, a number of inputs are used during cultivation such as pesticides, improved seeds, big tractors. All these inputs require a significant amount of energy and inevitably consume large amounts of oil.

In the case of biomass energy in order to produce it many resources are used as fuel. In specific, crops with high potential of energy production such as corn and soya, sawdust, cattle feces, Municipal Solid waste. Thus, given the current circumstances it might be the time for us to return biomass energy equipped with the wisdom we have gain over the centuries in energy production and start using again what is considered waste turning it into useful energy. The Lavoisier with his famous principle would be happy “mass is neither gained nor lost, merely transformed”. The applications are numerous domestic or industrial: heat, heat for industrial processes, production of electricity and biofuels.

The fact that certain biomass crops (i.e. corn) grow back in a short time ensure a continuous and uninterrupted supply of energy as oppose to fossil fuels. Moreover, if a region of a country or of an area of the world is faced with a shortage of biomass supply (that could occur if the region has specialized in only one type of biomass energy production), the supply can be restored by other neighboring regions.

Biomass sustainability lies in the fact that it doesn’t burden the environment with any additional emission of CO2 since the amount that is released during its usage as a fuel can be recaptured by simply replanting the crop. In the case of fossil fuels, CO2 that was captured from the environment’s balance have been stocked away millions of years ago thus when released now it has a negative impact on it.

In addition, the advantages of specific crops dedicated to energy production, like thistle, miscanthus, willow or poplar, are numerous. Their use of solar energy is more efficient than in the case of food crops (i.e. wheat, corn) and they can be cultivated in harsh weather conditions and on barren land.

To conclude, there are many advantages in producing energy from biomass compared to using fossil fuels for energy production. Besides oil that has many applications in chemistry, and its use as fuel could be considered as waste of it for an inefficient purpose.

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