A pile of wood which is used for biomass energy production.

Interesting Facts About Biomass Energy You Should Know

Jane Marsh - November 8, 2023

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Biomass, a renewable and versatile energy source, holds immense potential for a sustainable future. Derived from organic materials like plants and wood, humans have utilized biomass for thousands of years. Biomass appears to be a promising option for a cleaner and greener future. Here are some interesting facts about biomass you might not know.

What Is Biomass Energy?

Biomass energy is a renewable energy source derived from organic materials, primarily plant and animal matter. These organic materials can be used as fuel to produce heat, electricity or biofuels. Biomass is a versatile energy source because it can encompass a wide range of feedstocks, including wood, crop residue, algae, animal waste and even municipal solid waste. When these organic materials are burned or converted through various processes, they release energy in the form of heat, which you can directly use for heating or converted into electricity through steam turbines or other power generation technologies. 

13 Interesting Facts About Biomass Energy

1. It’s an Ancient Energy Source

Biomass has been an essential source of energy since ancient times. Early humans used wood, plant matter and animal dung as fuel for heating, cooking and light. Today, biomass has evolved into a modern energy source, contributing significantly to renewable energy production. 

2. It’s Sustainable and Renewable

Its sustainable nature stems from its reliance on organic materials continuously regenerated through natural processes. Unlike finite fossil fuels, which take millions of years to form and deplete rapidly when consumed, biomass feedstocks can be replanted, harvested and replenished annually. This constant renewal of organic resources ensures that biomass is a perpetually available resource.

3. It’s Carbon-Neutral

One of the most remarkable aspects of biomass is its carbon neutrality. When burned or converted into biofuel, biomass releases carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere. However, plants initially absorbed this carbon from the atmosphere during their growth. Unlike fossil fuels, this closed carbon cycle makes biomass a nearly carbon-neutral energy source.  

4. You Can Use it for Transportation

Biofuels, like ethanol and biodiesel are derived from biomass and are used as substitutes for conventional fuels in transportation. These biofuels reduce greenhouse gas emissions and help combat air pollution, making them an essential component of a greener transportation sector.

5. It Has a Massive Global Impact

Biomass plays a pivotal role in global energy production. It accounts for approximately 14% of the world’s total energy supply. This contribution will likely increase as countries strive to reduce their reliance on fossil fuels and combat climate change. 

Many countries use biomass for energy production, including:

  • Kenya 
  • India 
  • China 
  • Brazil 
  • Finland 
  • Ireland 
  • Sweden 
  • USA 
  • Tanzania

Developing countries rely on energy production from biomass more than industrialized countries. 

6. It Offers the Potential for Energy Independence

Biomass can contribute to energy independence by utilizing locally available resources. Rural areas, in particular, can benefit from small-scale biomass power plants, reducing the need for long-distance energy transport. 

7. It Creates Job Opportunities

The biomass industry has the potential to generate employment opportunities in agriculture, forestry and bioenergy production. These opportunities can revitalize rural economies and promote sustainable land management practices. 

8. It Offers Carbon Sequestration

Certain types of biomass, like perennial grasses and trees, can sequester carbon from the atmosphere. This benefit makes them valuable tools in mitigating climate change and promoting sustainable land use practices. 

9. Diverse Feedstocks

Biomass feedstocks come in various forms, including wood chips, crop residue, algae and even food waste. This diversity enables flexibility in energy production as you can choose  different feedstocks based on availability and local conditions. 

10. It Can Use Energy From Human Waste

Perhaps one of the most interesting facts about biomass is the ability to use human waste for energy. This fact represents an innovative and sustainable approach to waste management and energy generation. This process typically involves the treatment of sewage and organic matter in wastewater treatment plants, where microorganisms break down the organic components. 

Biogas, primarily composed of methane, is produced as a byproduct during this process. This biogas can then be captured and used as a valuable renewable energy source for electricity generation, heating and even vehicle fuel. 

11. It’s Becoming More Important 

As the world grapples with population growth and climate change challenges, harnessing energy from renewable sources is becoming more vital. Biomass offers a unique solution to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and combat climate change. Its importance lies in its versatility as a renewable energy source while addressing waste management issues. It helps diversify the energy mix, reduce dependence on fossil fuels and mitigates the environmental impact of organic waste materials, making it an essential component of a greener and more sustainable energy future.

12. It Can Benefit Soil

Biomass energy can significantly benefit soil health and agricultural sustainability. When organic residues from biomass production, like crop residues or forestry byproducts, are returned to the soil as organic amendments, they enrich the soil with essential nutrients and organic matter. This process enhances soil fertility, improves water retention and promotes microbial activity, ultimately leading to healthier soil. Additionally, the cultivation of biomass feedstock crops, like switchgrass or willow, can be integrated into agricultural practices, providing farmers with additional income opportunities and promoting sustainable land management practices. 

13. It Produces Ethanol

Producing ethanol from biomass is a fascinating process that leverages the natural sugars and starches in organic materials. Biomass, like corn, sugar cane or cellulose-rich plant residues, serves as the feedstock for ethanol production. In the case of corn or sugarcane, these feedstocks are first crushed or ground to extract their natural sugars. 

For cellulose-rich materials like wood or agricultural residues, a more complex process called hydrolysis is used to break down the cellulose into sugars. Microorganisms, typically yeast, then ferment these sugars. During fermentation, the yeast consumes the sugars and converts them into ethanol and carbon dioxide. Once the process is complete, you can distill and purify the ethanol to reach the desired concentration. You can blend this resulting ethanol with gasoline to create ethanol fuels, widely used as an environmentally friendly alternative to fossil fuels. 

One Step Closer to a Greener Future

Biomass is a renewable energy source with incredible potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, promote sustainability and create economic opportunities. As we advance in our understanding of biomass and develop innovative technologies, it will play an increasingly vital role in our journey toward a greener and more sustainable future. Harnessing the power of biomass isn’t just an option — it’s a necessity for a cleaner, more sustainable world. 

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About the author

Jane Marsh

Starting from an early age, Jane Marsh loved all animals and became a budding environmentalist. Now, Jane works as the Editor-in-Chief of Environment.co where she covers topics related to climate policy, renewable energy, the food industry, and more.