How We Use Biomass

There are several ways to release the energy stored in biomass:

Burning: Energy is produced by burning wood, animal waste like manure, corn cobs, sugar cane, fruit pits and garbage. Garbage is used in many towns to produce electricity in waste-to-energy plants. By burning the garbage, these towns save on the use of landfills.

Fermentation: Energy is produced by adding yeast (a bacterium) to biomass materials like wheat, corn, grapes and other agricultural crops to produce an alcohol called ethanol. Ethanol can be used in place of gasoline to power cars or mixed with gasoline to produce a fuel called gasohol.

Conversion: Energy is produced by converting biomass (like cow manure) into gas (like methane) and liquid fuels. By adding heat or chemicals to the biomass, a fuel is produced that can be burned to produce electricity.

Bacterial Decay: Natural bacteria feed on dead and decaying plants and animals. As they decay, it produces a gas called methane. Methane is odorless, colorless and very rich in energy. It can be burned to produce heat and electricity.

Energy from biomass in the United States accounts for only 3 percent of the energy we produce. Most of the biomass energy comes from burning wood and the rest from agricultural crops, garbage and landfill gases.

Biomass is friendlier to the environment than burning fossil fuels, but can still pollute the air if not properly managed. Unlike fossil fuels, biomass does not produce pollutants like sulfur which can cause acid rain. Growing plants and trees for biomass use helps the environment, as plants use carbon dioxide to grow while producing and emitting oxygen into the air.