Biomass Technology

Biomass energy is far less polluting than typical energy sources like fossil fuels. Biomass production emits much less carbon than gas or coal, and contributes less to climate change. Biomass energy also serves a dual purpose in that it recycles waste


Benefits of Biomass Energy

Biomass energy cycle

The key benefit of biomass energy is that it is far less polluting than typical energy sources like fossil fuels. Biomass production emits far less carbon than gas or coal, and contributes less to climate change.

Biomass is renewable. Fossil fuels are a limited and finite resource; they will not last forever. Biomass is made from trees, crops and waste products that are continually available.

Biomass energy also serves a dual purpose, in that it recycles waste. Domestic waste can be incinerated and made into biomass energy, rather than taking up space in landfill. Waste wood from construction and shipping can be made into efficient biofuel, rather than simply going to waste. By-products of crops in agricultural societies can be used as an unlimited fuel resource to power these communities.

What is the difference between net primary productivity and standing biomass for an ecosystem? - QuoraBiomass is a part of what scientists call the ‘carbon cycle’. This term describes the process by which carbon is exchanged across the earth’s layers – the atmosphere, hydrosphere, biosphere, and the lithosphere. The carbon in fossil fuels originates from prehistoric organisms that have been sequestered for millions of years below the ground. This carbon cannot be re-absorbed in the carbon cycle.

However, biomass energy comes from recently living organisms, meaning that this carbon can carry on to be exchanged further in the carbon cycle. This means carbon from biomass will not have the same ‘greenhouse effect’ on our atmosphere that fossil fuels do, and so it avoids contributing to climate change. (National Geographic, 2022)

Domestic Biomass and Financial Support

Biomass still faces competition in the market from fossil fuels. These traditional energy sources – typically natural gas and coal – are considered more ‘reliable’, despite the fact they are non-renewable and are having a devastating impact on our climate.

As such, biomass energy requires acceleration through policy-making and financial support. Governments around the world, including the UK government, are investing in biomass as part of their plans to reach net-zero carbon emission in the coming decades.

In December 2021, the British government announced that £26 million will be invested directly into biomass projects. This funding is part of the Net Zero Innovation Portfolio, a £1 billion project to boost renewable technologies in the UK.

Seedling in wood pellets - source of biomass

A vital part of the domestic biomass industry is sourcing materials locally, rather than relying on imported materials. Researchers have declared that due to the water density of biomass, that it is not economically viable to transport the materials more than 100 miles (160km) from where they are sourced and processed.

A particularly exciting form of biomass is algae (seaweed), which produces energy through photosynthesis at 30 times the rate of other biomass materials. Algae also grow in ocean water, meaning it does not take up valuable landmass, and it absorbs carbon and other pollutants as it grows. It is also denser and takes up less space than other biomass crops, making it very efficient.

The only barrier to algae as a biofuel is its expense. Though it is likely to come down in price, it still costs up to $5,000 per ton to process, putting out-of-range for most less-developed economies that could make the most use out of algae as a biofuel. This potential needs to be fulfilled through investment.

Biomass vs Other Forms of Renewable Energy

Biomass is key to achieving totally renewable energy, as it is not as affected by the weather as solar or wind power. In times of poor sunlight or weak winds, biomass energy can always be there to fill in the gaps.

It must be noted, however, that biomass is not zero-carbon, but rather, it is ‘carbon neutral’. Its production still emits carbon dioxide into the earth’s atmosphere. Though it is still a vastly preferable alternative to high-carbon fossil fuels, it is still not a truly carbon-free energy source. For this reason, biomass should ideally be considered a supplementary power source to zero-carbon renewable sources – in particular, wind and solar.

Biomass also requires land to develop, potentially taking space from valuable food crops and wildlife habitats. Biomass must be produced sustainably, or else it may become non-renewable.

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