Biomass solutions

Energybuildireland provides Biomass solutions to burn chicken manure, horse manure, woodpellet and woodchip to suit every need.

What Is Biomass?

Biomass is any organic matter —wood, crops, seaweed, animal wastes— that can be used as an energy source. Biomass is probably our oldest source of energy after the sun. For thousands of years, people have burned wood to heat their homes and cook their food.

Biomass gets its energy from the sun. All organic matter contains stored energy from the sun. During a process called photosynthesis, sunlight gives plants the energy they need to convert water and carbon dioxide into oxygen and sugars. These sugars, called carbohydrates, supply plants and the animals that eat plants with energy. Foods rich in carbohydrates are a good source of energy for the human body!

Biomass is a renewable energy source because its supplies are not limited. We can always grow trees and crops, and waste will always exist.

Types of Biomass

We use four types of biomass today—wood and agricultural products, solid waste, landfill gas and biogas, and alcohol fuels. Below are information on the 2 main types.

Wood and Agricultural Biomass

Most biomass used today is home grown energy. Wood—logs, chips, bark, and sawdust—accounts for about 53 percent of biomass energy. But any organic matter can produce biomass energy. Other biomass sources include agricultural waste products like fruit pits and corncobs. In the process of photosynthesis, plants convert radiant energy from the sun into chemical energy in the form of glucose (or sugar).

Increasingly, timber companies and companies involved with wood products are seeing the benefits of using their lumber scrap and sawdust for power generation. This saves disposal costs and, in some areas, may reduce the companies’ utility bills. In fact, the pulp and paper industries rely on biomass to meet half of their energy needs. Other industries that use biomass include lumber producers, furniture manufacturers, agricultural businesses like nut and rice growers, and liquor producers.

Wood and wood waste, along with agricultural waste, are used to generate electricity. Much of the electricity is used by the industries making the waste; it is not distributed by utilities, it is co-generated. Paper mills and saw mills use much of their waste products to generate steam and electricity for their use. However, since they use so much energy, they need to buy additional electricity from utilities.

Solid Waste

Burning trash turns waste into a usable form of energy. One ton (2,000 pounds) of garbage contains about as much heat energy as 500 pounds of coal. Garbage is not all biomass; perhaps half of its energy content comes from plastics, which are made from petroleum and natural gas.

Power plants that burn garbage for energy are called waste-to-energy plants. These plants generate electricity much as coal-fired plants do, except that combustible garbage—not coal—is the fuel used to fire their boilers. Making electricity from garbage costs more than making it from coal and other energy sources. The main advantage of burning solid waste is that it reduces the amount of garbage dumped in landfills by 60 to 90 percent, which in turn reduces the cost of landfill disposal. It also makes use of the energy in the garbage, rather than burying it in a landfill, where it remains unused.

Biomass and the Environment

Environmentally, biomass has some advantages over fossil fuels such as coal and petroleum. Biomass contains little sulfur and nitrogen, so it does not produce the pollutants that can cause acid rain. Growing plants for use as biomass fuels may also help keep carbon dioxide levels balanced. Plants remove carbon dioxide—one of the greenhouse gases—from the atmosphere when they grow.

Benefits of Biomass Fuel to the Atmosphere

One of the main benefits of biomass fuel over fossil fuel can be best understood in terms of greenhouse gasses. While both biomass fuels and fossil fuels release about the same amount of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere when burned, there is a distinct difference in the effect they each have on the atmosphere. Burning fossil fuel releases carbon dioxide that was captured during photosynthesis literally millions of years ago. As it is burned, carbon dioxide is released as a new greenhouse gas, a ‘new’ carbon dioxide. Biomass fuel, on the other hand, releases carbon dioxide that was recently captured during photosynthesis and it tends to equal itself out. Nothing ‘new’ is being sent into the atmosphere, thus greatly reducing the greenhouse gas effect on the ozone layer.

Biomass Fuel to Limit Dependence on Foreign Oil

Part of the big picture involves the Middle East and other foreign oil producing nations. With such dependence on petroleum products for fuel, there is always a tension between the need for petroleum and foreign sanctions when there is a need to sanction one or more of those countries. As biomass fuel becomes more available and as such, the dependence on outside sources of fossil fuel will become much less necessary.

Biomass Fuel Reduces Risk to the Ecology

As those two major oil spills in the United States have evidenced, there is a tremendous need to find alternative sources of fuel. Biomass is ideal because it is renewable. There is no need to drill for it and transporting it does not provide the same risk factor that is involved in transporting fossil fuel. The danger to the ecology is significantly reduced even in the event that there should be a spill. The impact would be immediate but not over a period of hundreds of years. Live video feed is being broadcasted from the Louisiana coastline to show the sludge that is washing ashore due to the most recent (2010) spill; as a result, it could be centuries before vegetation and living creatures are able to inhabit those shorelines once again. A biomass spill would not have that kind of far-reaching and long-term consequences.

Crops for Biomass Utilize Inhospitable Agricultural Land

One concern that many people have is where the land will come from that is used to produce crops for biomass. It has been a real concern that agricultural land which is needed for producing foods for human or animal consumption will be taken over. This is not the case because many crops which are otherwise inedible can be used in the production of biomass fuels. The added benefit to this is that as crops are harvested for use in biomass, they can be immediately replanted. Because of this, biomass can be harvest yearly instead of having to wait millions of years for the fossil fuels that we currently use.

Biomass provides a cleaner and renewable source of energy as well as the ability to reduce dependence on oil. More and more uses are being discovered as research continues in this amazing field with the current emphasis being placed on the fact that Biomass is not only affordable but is also a safer alternative fuel. With this in mind, new bio fuels will become more easily available in the future which in turn provides a solution to some of the current ecological and atmospheric concerns.