What is Biomass Energy?
Biomass energy is organic matter harvested from living, or only very recently deceased, organisms. This can include logs or leafy matter fallen from trees. Biomass can also be the leftover waste materials from any number of human activities. This, depending on the source of the energy, can be converted into a very highly concentrated form of Biofuel, which can then be used to power vehicles and small motors, or converted into electricity. The purification process from collection point to point of use removes most of the toxins that would normally be hazardous to the environment. Used in moderation, this form of renewable energy would not be harmful, especially when considering that the most abundant source of active biomass energy is dung.
How Can Biomass Energy Be Used?
European Settlers, and Native Americans before them, used buffalo dung for energy on the Great Plains of North America. Cattle dung has been, and is still, used for such purposes in remote areas all over the world. In places like South America, Africa, Southeast Asia, and Australia, where massive cattle herds roam open ranges, their waste can be converted into an on the spot the energy source.
Consider further that humans have been using dung as a source of energy since before they were human. Are you skeptical? Our closest Simian cousin, the Bonobo Chimp, in field experiments, given the appropriate tools, flint stones, sticks, leaves, and even their own dung, has been taught to cook their own food. Thus, we know that they have the capacity to master the very basics of energy production. They figured out, on their own, that dung was the most effective sustainable source of energy for their fires. They could even tell the difference between fresh dung, and dry dung, which is the most combustible.
As mentioned above, depending on the source of the fuel, biomass energy can be converted into a very highly concentrated form of Biofuel, which can then be used to power vehicles and small motors, or even, converted into electricity. Biomass fuel can also serve as a ready source of heat energy to keep warm when all other options have been exhausted.
Output of Biomass Energy
System cost intensity tends to decrease as the system size increases. For a power-only, not combined heat and power, steam system in the five to twenty-five megawatt range, costs generally range between $3,000 and $5,000 per kilowatt of electricity. Levelized cost of energy for this system would be $0.08 to $0.15 per kWh, but this could increase significantly with fuel costs. Large systems require significant amounts of material, which leads to increasing haul distances and material costs. Small systems have higher O&M costs per unit of energy generated and lower efficiencies than large systems. Therefore, determining the optimal system size for a particular application is an iterative process.
A new report from the International Energy Agency takes a global overview of biomass use in the industrial and transport sectors, identifying leading countries and the top 15 production companies in each sector. The IEA’s Bioenergy Task 40 Report, “Large Industrial Users of Energy Biomass,” was released in September of 2013. At that point, biomass covered approximately ten percent of the global energy supply, of which two-thirds was used in developing countries for cooking and heating. In 2009, about thirteen percent of biomass use was consumed for heat and power generation, while the industrial sector consumed fifteen percent and transportation four percent. The global consumption of biofuels in transportation equaled two percent of the transport sector total.
Potential Dangers of Biomass Energy
Pure hydrogen can also be extracted from sources of biomass energy, and its energy potential is extremely high; however, it also has the potential to be extremely volatile. When mishandled, usually through inappropriate mixtures with oxygen, hydrogen power can be both very loud and highly destructive. Consider the facts that the most destructive bomb yet detonated by humans was a Hydrogen Bomb and that hydrogen, in its solid form, is used as Rocket Fuel. On another note, many sources of biomass fuel require combustion to be useful. If this type of energy is overused, it can contribute to the overproduction of negative byproducts that would be harmful to the environment. Used properly, biomass energy can be used as a very effective supplement to other sources of renewable like wind, sun, and other such sources. This is especially the case in remote regions of the world where the infrastructure is either not available or its construction in the region is unfeasible.
wood and leaves in the forest in winter