Posted August 8th, 2011 by

BiomassIn many developing countries wood has been used as a fuel. The situation is growing so desperate that wood is poached from forest reserves. As a result the ecosystem is degrading deplorably. So, in order to protect the natural environment, there is every necessity of producing alternative sources of energy for the needs of the people. Biomass is the best alternative as it is readily available and production of energy from biomass is also less costly. The conventional energy sources like fossil fuels, crude oil, natural gas etc. are dwindling fast. The world stocks of non-renewable natural sources have decreased at such a rate that there is a growing necessity of seeking out renewable alternative resources for energy such as firewood, charcoal, agricultural residues, vegetable wastes, cow dung, urban and industrial wastes; forest residues are the main sources of this non-commercial energy. The most efficient utilization of these resources occurs when they are converted to biomass by appropriate technologies. The non-commercial biomass fuels are the main sources of energy available in the rural areas. The 80% of our population that resides in villages are dependent on these non-commercial biomass fuels.

Biomass Concept
The term biomass refers to all organic matter generated through photosynthesis and other biological processes. The ultimate source of this renewable biomass is the inexhaustible solar energy which is captured by plants through photosynthesis. It includes both terrestrial as well as aquatic matter such as wood, herbaceous plants, algae, aquatic plants and residues – such as straw, husks, corncobs, cow dung, saw-dust, wood shavings and other wastes like disposable garbage, night soil, sewage solids, industrial refuse etc.

In order to utilize these resources properly, biomass should be converted to energy which can meet a sizable percentage of the country’s demands for fuel as well as energy. Three main approaches can be adopted for generation and proper utilization.

1. Collection of agricultural and forest residues to produce fuels, organic manures and chemical feed stock.
2. Collection of urban and industrial wastes as fuel in boilers and as a feedstock for producing methane and some liquid fuels.
3. Growth of some specific energy plants for use as energy feed stock and cultivation of commercial forestry, aquatic and marine plants for different products. By a number of processes, the collected wastes can be converted into solid, liquid, and gaseous fuels. The technologies include thermal, thermo-chemical, and bio-chemical conversions. The actual processes in these technologies are combustion, pyrolysis, gasification, alcoholic fermentation, liquefaction etc.

The main products of conversion technologies are energy (thermal, steam, electricity), solid fuels (charcoal, combustibles) and synthetic fuels (methanol, methane, hydrogen gas etc.). These can be used for different purposes like cooking, lighting, heating, water pumping, electricity generation and as industrial and transport fuels.

Biomass Advantages
There are many advantages to using biomass which include the following:

1. Biomass used as a fuel reduces the need for fossil fuels for the production of heat, steam, and electricity for residential, industrial and agricultural use.
2. Biomass is always available and can be produced as a renewable resource.
3. Biomass fuel from agriculture wastes may be a secondary product that adds value to agricultural crops.
4. Growing biomass crops produce oxygen and use up carbon dioxide.
5. The use of waste materials reduce landfill disposal and makes more space for everything else.
6. Carbon Dioxide which is released when Biomass fuel is burned, is taken in by plants.
7. Less money spent on foreign oil.

Biomass Disadvantages
Despite the advantages of biomass, there are some disadvantages:

1. Agricultural wastes will not be available if the basic crop is no longer grown.
2. Additional work is needed in areas such as harvesting methods.
3. Land used for energy crops may be in demand for other purposes, such as farming, conservation, housing, resort or agricultural use.
4. Some biomass conversion projects are from animal wastes and are relatively small and therefore are limited.
5. Research is needed to reduce the costs of production of biomass based fuels.
6. May be a major cause of pollution.

As with other traditional energy sources, such as natural gas and coal, biomass is not an ideal solution for an energy source. Rather than rely on biomass as an energy source, we must seek out cleaner alternative energy.

Image Credit: Pike Research

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