Biomass Energy

Biomass, biological material ? either living or recently living ? that can be used as a fuel or for industrial power production, is one of the oldest forms of energy. Although plant matter is most often thought of, biomass also includes animal matter and biodegradable wastes.
Biomass can be converted to a solid, liquid, or gas fuel, or burned directly to produce steam to drive an electric generator. In the U.S., the main use is for electrical power generation and industrial processes. The cost to generate electricity depends on the size of the power plant, theexternal image biomass3.jpgtechnology used, and the cost of the biomass supply. In order to be economical, the source needs to be located close to where it will be used.
Biofuels, which contain oxygen, have become more widely used since they can be mixed with other fuel types, allowing for more complete combustion and a reduction in air pollution. Currently, the most popular biofuels are ethanol and biodiesel. Ethanol can be combined with gasoline in any combination and used in nearly all types of gasoline engines. Similar to ethanol, biodiesel can be mixed with diesel fuel and used in most diesel engines.
Environmental effects will depend widely on the type of biomass used and whether it is used as a fuel or direct energy source. Although the burning of biomass does release some pollutants, since biomass is part of the carbon cycle, carbon dioxide emissions are substantially reduced or nearly equal to what was captured during its growth phase. However, there is much concern about the growth of specific energy crops, from the potential effects due to unsustainable growth to the displacement of cropland currently used for food production.
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U.S. Department of Energy: Biomass Program

The Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy's biomass program discusses the benefits of biomass, current uses, and different conversion technologies. The site also includes a student resources page, with links to basic information on biofuels, biopower, and bioproducts.
Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS): How Biomass Energy Works

The UCS details the types of biomass and processes used to convert biological material into energy and discusses the nation's biomass potential and how, as an energy source, it affects the environment.
Renewable Energy Policy Project (REPP): Bioenergy

This July 2005 REPP issue brief takes a look at the basics of bioenergy and the different types of biomass, as well as what biomass can be used for and the costs and barriers of its widespread use. The brief also includes diagrams and pictures to help explain the bioenergy cycle and technological processes.

Methane digestor