What is Biomass?

Another source of renewable energy, biomass It is created through combustion of organic matter. It is much less polluting than the equivalent fossil fuel during combustion.

Biomass energy cycle

What is Biomass Energy?

Biomass energy is a form of renewable energy. It is created through combustion of organic matter, including wood, plants, manure, and household waste. Although burning biomass still emits carbon dioxide pollution, it is considerably less polluting than equivalent fossil fuel combustion. Sometimes, the terms biomass and biofuel are used interchangeably.

Currently, biomass energy does not contribute as much energy to the grid as other green energy sources like wind or solar. During the UK’s longest spell without coal-generated electricity, biomass only supplied around 4% of the power, compared to 12% for wind and 11% for solar.

However, with the UK moving towards a carbon-free future, it is expected that biomass will become far more prevalent. The Renewable Energy Association’s June 2019 report expects that bioenergy will more than triple to 16% of the UK’s energy by 2032 (Mace, 2019). Another report from IRENA (the International Renewable Energy Agency) has forecast that biomass could make up 60% of all low-carbon energy produced by 2030 (Circular, 2014).

Versatility of Biomass

Biomass is a versatile energy source, as it converts waste products already in supply – plants, wood, agricultural by-products – into green energy.

If the full potential of biomass is realised, experts predict that up to 40% of it will be generated from agricultural residues and waste (Circular, 2014). In the same report, it is suggested that by 2030, biomass could provide up to 20% of the entire world’s electricity.

However, acceleration towards biomass is needed, as the current rate of adoption is low. Researchers have advised that more investment be made in purpose-built facilities for biomass energy production. Biomass is currently being out-competed by polluting fossil fuels, which are more convenient and ‘reliable’ in the short term, so deliberate policy change is needed.

Biomass logs

A stack of Lumbar Biomass can also provide a backup renewable energy source that is not dependent on weather, as solar and wind are. When these sources fall short, biomass provides a versatile, low-carbon alternative to keep power running.

Biomass energy also provides economic benefits, particularly for rural areas. A switch to bio-energy will provide a boost to agricultural industries, rather than just city-based factories and refineries. The biomass economy is considered to be the largest renewable energy sector in the world (Gosalvez, 2021).

Sustainability of Biomass

The main benefit of biomass is its sustainability. Unlike fossil fuels, there is a large abundance of plants and organic materials on earth, constantly replenishing itself. This means supplies of biomass cannot be depleted in the same way.

Imagetypes of Biomass

Another inherent advantage of biomass over fossil fuels is that it is carbon neutral, when sustainably managed. Though it still emits some carbon, it is a negligible amount, especially when compared to fossil fuels, which emit most of the carbon dioxide that contributes to pollution and climate change.

However, there are some challenges to maintaining a sustainable biomass energy system. Younger people tend to live in urban areas, whereas biomass is usually situated in rural and agricultural settings.

Additionally, biomass still faces competition from traditional fossil fuels. Biofuels can be affected by variables such as extreme weather, disease, infects and infestations. This makes it less reliable in the short-term supply chain than crude oil or coal, which are mined year-round.

Biomass production must be careful to make sure it is sustainable. Wood is a key biofuel, but large-scale deforestation could prove devastating to wildlife ecosystems. It is important for biomass producers to be weary of environmentally sensitive areas, and work together with environmental authorities.

These challenges aside, biomass is a key sustainable energy source that will provide a viable backup to zero-carbon wind and solar energy in the near future.


Return to the Energy Home Page

Click the button above to be transported back to the site's energy category page.

Onward to Where Biomass is Used

Click the button above to move on to learn more about biomass energy.