Biomass: A Burning Topic

If you’ve ever roasted a hot dog or made s’mores over a wood campfire, you’ve tasted the benefits of biomass fuel. Biomass – organic material from plants and animals – is a renewable energy source that may hold promise as an unconventional energy source.

The quest for clean renewable energy sources goes on as creative thinkers explore unconventional means to avoid burning carbon-based fossil fuels to generate electricity.

Scientists are split over the theory of global warming. Environmental alarmists, led by the likes of former U.S. VP Al Gore, blame petroleum-belching industries and the consumers they serve for emitting so much carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases that the planet’s temperature is rising.

Left unchecked, this hypothetical carbon-produced global warming will melt land ice, raise sea level, and flood coastlines and lowlands. Fertile farmland will become scorched earth, followed by mass death – perhaps even the extinction of all human life.

Believing a large number of worst-case projections from United Nations-sponsored research – none of which has proved true – much of the world is embracing imaginary concepts such as “sustainability” – enough energy to power us all – and “renewable” – able to replenish itself – and “clean” or “green” – specifically, a technology that doesn’t emit carbon by-products.

The UN is so sure that the people of Earth are doomed due to our own petroleum-based folly that its members have issued a series of agendas to put the world into the order they envision.

In 2009, the UN scared the European Union (EU) into committing to transition to 20% renewable energy by 2020. Biomass was listed as a renewable energy source, categorized as “carbon neutral.”

Several countries embraced bioenergy and started to subsidize the biomass industry.

Trees and plants absorb carbon dioxide from the air and isolate the carbon via photosynthesis to grow tree trunks, bark, and leaves. After a plant dies, it rots and much of the carbon within it is released back into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide.

Using biomass as an energy source intercepts this carbon cycle, using energy stored in biological organisms productively. Wood, food crops, grassy and woody plants, residues from agriculture or forestry, oil-rich algae, and the organic component of municipal and industrial wastes are all biomass sources.

Cow fart jokes aside, methane-rich fumes from landfills (methane is the main component in natural gas) can also be used as a viable biomass energy source.

Here a few examples of biomass and how they are used for energy:

  • Wood and wood processing wastes are burned to heat buildings, to produce process heat in industry, and to generate electricity
  • Agricultural crops and waste materials are burned as a fuel or converted to liquid biofuels
  • Food, yard, and wood waste in garbage are burned to generate electricity in power plants or converted to biogas in landfills
  • Animal manure and human sewage are converted to biogas, which can be burned as a fuel

In 2017, biomass fuels provided about 5% of total primary energy use in the U.S.

Burning plant-derived biomass does release CO2 but EU and UN legal frameworks still classified it as a renewable energy source because photosynthesis cycles the CO2 back into new crops. Because a relatively large portion of the CO2 is moved to the soil during each cycle, CO2 recycling from plants to atmosphere and back into plants can even be CO2 negative.

The U.S. Department of Energy (DEO), Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy operates the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). NREL’s vision is to develop technology for biorefineries that will convert biomass into multiple valuable fuels, chemicals, materials, and products, much as oil refineries and petrochemical plants do.

The United Kingdom is also pledged to zero-out carbon emissions. The island nation observed its first coal-free day in the summer of 2017. In May 2019, the UK used no coal to produce electricity for two weeks.

Critics of biomass energy point out that regrowth isn’t certain, forest land may be converted to other uses such as pasture, farmland, or development. Remaining forests, vulnerable to wildfires, insect damage, diseases, and other ecological stresses, may experience reduced or no regrowth. In that case, the carbon debt incurred by biomass energy is never repaid.

Most energy-poor people and places around the globe still rely on biomass for most of their energy needs. Burning biomass without appropriate ventilation mechanisms is a major health concern that helps shorten life expectancies in much of the emerging world.

Concerns associated with biomass go beyond human health. Deforestation, cropland degradation due to diverting agricultural residues, and changing land usage are all important environmental issues associated with biomass energy.

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