Currently, one of the fastest growing concern in Canada is the fact that our fossil fuel usage is much more than the Earth can provide. Luckily for us, biomass is one of the sources of energy that could help us with this. Biomass energy (bioenergy) is concentrated chemical energy stored in organic compounds both living and recently living. Such organic materials include vegetable oils, wood, corn and waste. Because waste and crops keep being generated, it is renewable. Biomass is composed of mainly hydrogen, carbon, and oxygen. Nitrogen exists in large quantities in biomass. Other materials, including alkaline earth, alkali, and metals such as magnesium, exist in biomass, albeit in small quantities.

Bio-energy is an advanced energy source, seeing as it was recently discovered around 1975. It’s much like fossil fuels in many ways, as it is produced from burning organic material such as vegetable oils, wood, corn, and waste. One of the most significant differences between fossil fuels and bio-energy, though, is that the organic material for fossil fuels does not need to be compressed for millions of years, instead using more recently deceased material. This makes it non-conventional, or, to put it in simpler terms, renewable.

Hemp, corn, willow, poplar, and corn, as well as some species of trees, including eucalyptus and palm oil trees are some of the plants used the most to create biomass energy throughout the world. Human and animal waste can also be used as biomass. In South Africa, there are giant upright tube-like structures where community members dump their waste or animal droppings. This is used to make electricity by using a surprisingly simple concept. A deep pool of water is heated by the Sun’s rays. The water provides enough heat to evaporate the acetone inside metallic pipes. This is made possible because acetone has one of the lowest boiling points of all the elements. The acetone gas is then used to provide heat for the biomass. This speeds up the biomass’ degradation rate, in the process releasing gases such as hydrogen, which are collected and stored in a storage tank. From there, it is used to generate electricity or to provide other forms of energy.

When biomass is burned, it releases the carbon it has stored in its tissue, as well as gases such as hydrogen gas. Alongside this, it also releases nitrogen oxides (NOx) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs). In some cases, some concentrations of the above wastes are released in greater quantities when burning biomass than when burning petroleum or coal, proving that biomass is in fact not as clean as people would like to think. However, if biomass was the only source of energy that resulted in pollution, the Earth would still be relatively healthy no matter how much we burned-even though it releases CO2. This is because of a process called the carbon cycle. CO2 is absorbed by plants in order for them to grow. The plants release oxygen, but store the CO2. When plants are burned as biofuel, the carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere in the process of creating energy, later being absorbed by the plants, and so on. This means that if our Earth had enough plants, Global Warming wouldn’t be happening, and, even if it were, carbon dioxide wouldn’t be one of its greater contributors.

Interesting Facts

1. Although biomass is great and clean and all that, it does have some slightly grisly uses. For one, scientists have found out that if you extract the carbohydrates and sugars from biomass, you are left with alcohol. In my opinion, this fact is enough to make even the heaviest drinkers stop-I mean, who wants to drink something that is similar in structure to the “unfinished” pizza, manure, and kitty litter? Think about it!

2. In a sense, fossil fuels are renewable to some extent, because they are basically biomass that has been underground and under pressure for millions of years. However, humans have only lived on this planet for around 20,000, so since biomass takes millions of years to turn into fossil fuels, the fact that it is renewable is of no use to us. It is almost like having a sink full of water, than draining the water, in the meantime letting a small trickle of liquid flow from the tap. The draining represents our fossil fuel requirements, while the Earth can only provide that small trickle of fossil fuels. Then again, that is why the definition of a renewable energy source is something that is conventional and easy to obtain in a reasonable amount of time.

3. With fossil fuels running out, biomass has become more widespread throughout the world as a replacement, yet tests show that if biomass has to be transported for more than 200km to a refinery, it takes more energy to power the vehicle carrying it than the total amount of energy that can be made from that biomass.

4. Anything in the world that lives is biomass. No matter is it were a small flower blossom, even if it had life for a second, it would still be considered as biomass. You and I could even be considered as biomass, seeing as we have carbon dioxide in our bodies and we obtain energy from eating various parts of plants. Nevertheless, the thought of this is rather disturbing, even if it is true.

5. Not only is biomass used in South Africa, but it can also be used in virtually anywhere. It is used for cooking, powering vehicles, and much more. It produces 4% of the energy used in the U.S.A, and 14% of the whole world!

6. Though typically a person would think of biomass as a solid, but it can also be a liquid.  Also, most of biomass is organic material, yet some inorganic compunds such as C14.

Pros Cons
-Biomass provides an opportunity to put waste that would otherwise be, well, wasted, to good use, hence basically making energy out of worthless things, which is like getting something out of nothing. -Growing biomass in sufficient quantities requires large scale fields where it is grown. Large areas of plants mean a lot of water goes into growing the biomass. Growing biomass in sufficient quantities requires large scale fields where it is grown. Large areas of plants mean a lot of water goes into growing the biomass.
-Since biomass is basically waste, it is very cheap, because no one needs waste anyway. -It is expensive to store the biomass that is not used by the refinery at that point of time.
-Because biomass is being produced everywhere, there is no reason for pipelines to be built to carry it from a harvesting area to refinery. -Installing refineries that turn biomass into ethanol or biodiesel are expensive to build and maintain. Larger chunks of biomass cannot be processed unless compacted, cut, or chipped into smaller pieces.
-Local biomass refineries provide jobs for people who need them. These jobs include harvesting the biomass and actually running the refinery. -Although carbon released from biomass being burned is reabsorbed by plants in the carbon cycle, other waste material such as C14, a radioactive isotope of carbon, are absorbed by the atmosphere.
-Biomass has the potential to produce 10 times more energy then solar or wind energy. -Because of the overall cost of building refineries and processing biomass, small biomass power plants are not economically advisable because they will probably use more money and energy to build and maintain than the amount of energy they create.
-Not only is biomass renewable, but it is also available year-round, as humans produce waste everyday. Some crops are also able to fbe cultivated in all four seasons. -As one of the major contributors to biomass is wood, forests are naturally an important source for biomass. This leads to cutting down trees in vast numbers, making biomass contribute even more to global warming.