Sunday, April 6, 2008

Using Biomass for Energy

Biomass is matter usually thought of as rubbish. Some of it is just stuff lying around -- dead trees, tree branches, yard clippings, left-over crops, wood chips, and bark and sawdust from lumber mills. It can even consist of used tires and livestock dung.

Your trash, paper products that can't be recycled into other paper products, and other home waste are normally sent to the dump. Your trash includes some types of biomass that can be reused. Recycling biomass for fuel and other uses cuts down on the need for "landfills" to hold garbage.

This material nobody seems to want can be used to generate electricity, heat, compost material or fuels. Composting material is decayed plant or food products mixed together in a compost pile and spread to help plants grow up.

Your area may produces tons of biomass from lumber mill wastes, urban wood waste, forest and agricultural residues and other feed stocks. If all of it was used, tons of biomass could make megawatts of electricity for growing population and economy. That's enough energy to make electricity for millions of houses!

How biomass works is very plain. The waste wood, tree branches and other scraps are gathered together in big trucks. The trucks bring the waste from factories and from farms to a biomass power plant. Here the biomass is dumped into big hoppers. This is then fed into a furnace where it is burned. The heat is used to boil water in the boiler, and the energy in the steam is used to spin turbines and generators.

Biomass can also be tapped exactly at the landfill with burning waster products. When garbage decomposes, it gives off methane gas. Natural gas is made up of methane. Pipelines are put into the landfills and the methane gas can be collected. It is then used in power plants to make electricity. This category of biomass is called landfill gas.

A similar thing can be done at animal feed lots. In places where lots of animals are raised, the animals - like cattle, cows and even chickens - produce manure. When manure decomposes, it also gives off methane gas similar to garbage. This gas can be burned up precise at the farm to make energy to run the farm.

Using biomass can help reduce global warming compared to a fossil fuel-powered plant. Plants use and store carbon dioxide (CO2) when they grow. CO2 stored in the plant is released when the plant material is burned or decays. By replanting the crops, the new plants can use the CO2 produced by the burned plants. So using biomass and replanting helps close the carbon dioxide cycle. However, if the crops are not replanted, then biomass can emit carbon dioxide that will contribute toward global warming. So, the use of biomass can be environmentally friendly because the biomass is reduced, recycled and then reused. It is also a renewable resource since plants to make biomass can be grown over and over.

Today, new ways of using biomass are still being discovered. One way is to produce ethanol, a liquid alcohol fuel. Ethanol can be applied in particular kind of cars that are made for using alcohol fuel instead of gasoline. The alcohol can also be mixed with gasoline. This reduces our ‘addiction’ on oil - a non-renewable fossil fuel.

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