Biomass - Renewable Energy - The Lowdown

Biomass Energy - An Overview:

Biomass energy is derived from carbon based sources; namely, material that was once living or came from a living source. Unlike fossil fuels, however, biomass material is not millions of years old, nor does it need to be drilled or mined. It's also largely renewable unlike fossil fuel.

So what materials are actually used as biomass energy?
A vast number of things can be harvested or grown and turned into useable energy by power plants that have biomass energy producing capability. Energy crops, such as certain fast growing grasses, corn, wheat and other plants comprise a large amount of biomass material. Fast growing, sustainable tree varieties are also used, as well as waste products from the timber and agricultural industries. Even the manure from animals and waste from landfills is used; methane gas from these sources can be converted into source of biomass energy.

A Brief History:
Biomass energy isn't a new idea; up until the mid 1800s, almost all energy in the United States (and in the world) was biomass, with the exception of coal and a few other oils and fuels. While electricity had long since been discovered by that point, it still had not been turned into a commercially useable form of energy production, and coal was available only in some regions. Most fossil fuel sources were still inefficient to harvest and produce, making them a much less useful method of energy output than other biomass sources.

With the boom of the fossil fuel industry and advancing technology in the area of electricity, biomass energy became less commercially popular. It wasn't until 1978 when Congress passed the Public Utility Regulatory Policies act that scientists and energy companies began to take another serious look at biomass.

Environment Impact:
Responsible biomass energy production and consumption can have very positive impacts on the environment in several ways. In the case of energy crops CO2 is produced by biomass energy plants, but the same CO2 is taken back out of the atmosphere when new energy crops are planted and grown. This helps maintain a much more even balance of carbon emissions than what is seen with fossil fuel sources.

Because harmful methane gas can be harvested and used to produce cleaner energy, biomass can help reduce the amount of methane in the atmosphere. It also saves an estimated 350 million tons of waste from the timber and agricultural industries from entering landfills.

Because most of the sources used in biomass are sustainable, it has a much lower overall impact on the environment, both regionally and globally. Responsible selection of proper biomass land areas for crops, trees and other materials is essential in keeping the balance, however, with scientists working with energy producers to protect savannahs, old forests, and food crop farms.