Since time immemorial, biomass fuels have been used to generate energy. In ancient days, people burned wood to generate heat to cook and serve other heating purposes. In the 1800s, Coal-fired systems were introduced in large cities like North America and Europe. Let’s consider the advantages of biomass compared to the disadvantages.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Biomass: Things to Consider
The discovery of other significant sources of energy such as coal and petroleum significantly changed the means of energy production. However, since fossil fuels are limited, it made humans revert to ancient methods of energy production such as biomass.
Biomass exists inside living organisms such as plants and animals. It can also be in the form of recently living or dead plants, grass, trees, leaves, crops, manure, garbage, and animal wastes. Biomass energy is also known as bioenergy is a form of renewable energy. Our renewable energy community can help you consider a number of different options.
Green Coast was created to help everyone understand how different renewable energy technologies work together, so these are a few consideration on how biomass operates.
Ways to convert biomass into energy
Biomass can convert into energy that is used to power homes, buildings, hospitals, malls, etc. There are several methods of converting Biomass into energy, and they include:
Biomass energy is energy produced by burning of organic matters such as plants, agricultural and forestry residues as well as the municipal and industrial wastes. It occurs by exposure of the heat to the organic matter with the presence of oxygen in a boiler to produce steam.
The steam produced rotates a turbine that is connected to a shaft that in turn spins a generator that generates electricity. The energy produced can be used for different heating purposes. When burned, the carbon dioxide is released back into the environment.
Gasification is the process of organic matter conversion into gas forms including carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, and hydrogen. Organic materials are reacted using heat with a limited amount of oxygen and without combustion to achieve this.
It results in a gas mixture that is called syngas or producer gas which is also another form of fuel.
Pyrolysis is a Greek word derived from two words pyro and lysis meaning fire and separating respectively is a process of decomposing organic materials by exposure to high temperatures without oxygen.
Because there is no oxygen used, the organic material doesn’t burn instead it decomposes into three forms which are: syngas, bio-oil which is a liquid form and bio-char which is in solid form.
Bio digestion also known as anaerobic digestion is a process where bacteria break down organic material in the absence of air to create biogas. The biogas is combusted to generate energy.
Fermentation is yet another method which involves converting sugar from an organic material with the help of yeast into alcohol or ethanol. The ethanol produced can be used as a form of energy to power automobiles.
So, what are the advantages of biomass?
Let’s dive in.
Advantages of Biomass Energy
Biomass energy has numerous advantages that include:
Renewable source of energy
Biomass energy is a renewable resource because of how it is derived. It is from organic matters such as crop waste, wood and other specific resources that are grown to create energy. It is from natural resources and waste products that are never-ending and that we are continually producing.
Biomass energy is generally from a sewer, garbage, manure, sludge, and other forms of organic matter. Biomass used today is, and a new crop can be grown after each harvest which means it readily and widely available.
Whether biomass is carbon neutral or not has elicited debate and a bone of contention from different sectors. Fossil fuels emit carbon dioxide gas into the atmosphere which is a greenhouse gas. Biomass is a better and reliable alternative because it’s a low carbon fuel and results in less carbon pollution.
Reduces amounts of organic wastes in landfills
Another significant advantage of biomass fuel is that it helps with waste management. A majority of wastes produced in homesteads are biodegradable and plant matter. Biomass utilizes this kind of garbage and thus reduces the amounts of organic wastes in landfills and the adverse effects it would make on the environment, habitat and the wildlife ecosystem.
Reduction of wastes also means freeing of more space for alternative uses.
More efficient and reduces dependency on fossil fuels
Another advantage of biomass fuel is that it’s a great alternative to fossil fuels. The use of wastes to create energy results in a reduction in the use of fossil fuels.
Fossil fuels are limited and expensive to extract, and so biomass energy is an excellent alternative.
Can be used in many forms and to create different products
Different types of organic matter can be used to create different products such as methane gas, biodiesel and other forms of biofuels. These products are used as sources of energy and serve numerous purposes. Biomass can also be used to heat steam turbines that generate electricity.
See Related: Pros and Cons of Geothermal Energy
Another significant advantage of biomass power is that it is less expensive to use compared to coal and oil. It costs a third less to use fossil fuels to do a similar job.
Disadvantages of Biomass
While biomass advantages are plenty, it also has several downsides. The disadvantages of biomass fuel include:
Emits harmful gases to the environment
Just like burning any other solid fuels such as coal, burning biomass also results in an emission of large amounts of pollutants. Biomass energy can thus be a significant cause of air pollution. Biomass energy emits methane gases which are harmful to the earth’s ozone layer and can result in global warming.
Burning organic material also emits particular matter (PM), carbon monoxide(CO), Nitrogen Oxides(NOx), sulfur dioxide(SO2), mercury, lead among other hazardous air pollutants(HAPs) such as styrene, acrolyne formaldehyde, hydrochloric and hydrofluoric acids.
The HAPs which are a group of 187toxics are said to be common causes of cancer among other serious health, reproductive, birth, and environmental effects.
Increased risk of deforestation
Uncontrolled biomass production can lead to depletion of trees as humans seek for more wood to convert to biomass energy. Deforestation can have dire effects on both animals and human habitat and ecosystem.
It can result in reduced rainfall that can, in turn, bring drought and famine. It’s essential to have proper biomass production control measures in place to help preserve trees.
See Related: Pros and Cons of Using Nuclear Energy
Inefficient compared to gasoline
Biodiesel products like ethanol have to be mixed with gasoline while operating in combustion engines. Besides that, long-term use of ethanol can have harmful effects on the engine.
Biomass energy production requires a lot of space, money, and efforts
It’s quite expensive to create the biomass energy plant and need much space to be set up. Transport and other resources gathering expenses are quite high. The energy plants still require fuel as a resource in the biomass energy production.
In a majority of cases, the energy boilers are set up in urban centers’ which means more traffic and pollution which seems to be more of a problem than a solution. The biomass energy production is still advancing and a lot of time and energy has been put into it to make it more effective and efficient.
Conclusion on the Advantages vs. Disadvantages of Biomass Energy
The advantages of biomass energy are no doubt more than its disadvantages. It thus one of the best alternatives sources of energy to fossil fuels and will most likely be advanced and be utilized more in future. Try participating in our renewable energy forum to learn more.
What do you think about biomass energy? Please let us know in the comments below. I’d love to hear from you!