Main Topics
 

Biomass

Recent events in the world have placed an increased awareness on the need to provide alternative sources of fuel and energy. Not only is the availability of fossil fuel in question, but fossil fuels are also known to disrupt the natural ecological balance of the planet. Within the past twenty-one years there have been two catastrophic oil spills in the United States alone that are disrupting the ecology both in local areas as well as around the globe. The Exxon Valdez Oil Spill of 1989 along with the BP Oil Spill in the Gulf of Mexico in April of 2010 has severely disrupted a delicate ecological balance and may continue to do so for years to come. While these two spills are significant, they are by no means among the worst on a global level. Taking into consideration that burning fossil fuels also promotes a greenhouse effect in the ozone, it is understandable that scientists around the world are exploring biomass (which is a renewable organic energy) as a safer alternative.

A Brief Definition of Biomass

Biomass can be understood as regenerative (renewable) organic material that can be used to produce energy. These sources include aquatic or terrestrial vegetation, residues from forestry or agriculture, animal waste and municipal waste. In laymen�s terms, that means biomass is manufactured from crops, wood, manure, land fill gasses and alcohol fuels. Ethanol is a prime example of biomass alcohol fuel. Producing fuel and energy from biomass is a complex procedure but the principle behind it corresponds directly to photosynthesis. This is a chemical reaction in which carbon dioxide and water are transformed into oxygen gas and glucose through the input of energy from the sun. Plants become autotrophs because they use glucose as a source of energy rather than fossil fuels.

A Self Renewing Energy

Biomass is basically self-renewing energy. The chemical equation for photosynthesis is notated as 6CO2 + 6H2O ---> C6H12O6 + 6O2. It shows through scientific notation that carbon dioxide plus water are converted into glucose and oxygen gas through the input of energy. With this in mind, harnessing that natural energy has become the focus of scientists in an effort to reduce the dependence on fossil fuels and find a safer and cleaner alternative source of energy.

Benefits of Biomass Fuel to the Atmosphere

One of the main benefits of biomass fuel over fossil fuel can be best understood in terms of greenhouse gasses. While both biomass fuels and fossil fuels release about the same amount of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere when burned, there is a distinct difference in the effect they each have on the atmosphere. Burning fossil fuel releases carbon dioxide that was captured during photosynthesis literally millions of years ago. As it is burned, carbon dioxide is released as a new greenhouse gas, a �new� carbon dioxide. Biomass fuel, on the other hand, releases carbon dioxide that was recently captured during photosynthesis and it tends to equal itself out. Nothing �new� is being sent into the atmosphere, thus greatly reducing the greenhouse gas effect on the ozone layer.

Biomass Fuel to Limit Dependence on Foreign Oil

Part of the big picture involves the Middle East and other foreign oil producing nations. With such dependence on petroleum products for fuel, there is always a tension between the need for petroleum and foreign sanctions when there is a need to sanction one or more of those countries. As biomass fuel becomes more available and as such, the dependence on outside sources of fossil fuel will become much less necessary.

Biomass Fuel Reduces Risk to the Ecology

As those two major oil spills in the United States have evidenced, there is a tremendous need to find alternative sources of fuel. Biomass is ideal because it is renewable. There is no need to drill for it and transporting it does not provide the same risk factor that is involved in transporting fossil fuel. The danger to the ecology is significantly reduced even in the event that there should be a spill. The impact would be immediate but not over a period of hundreds of years. Live video feed is being broadcasted from the Louisiana coastline to show the sludge that is washing ashore due to the most recent (2010) spill; as a result, it could be centuries before vegetation and living creatures are able to inhabit those shorelines once again. A biomass spill would not have that kind of far-reaching and long-term consequences.

Biomass for Products Currently Dependent on Petroleum

There is a wide array of products that are currently dependent on fossil fuels. Chemicals, plastics and an assortment of products like Vaseline are dependent on petroleum. Many of these products have become a staple of contemporary lifestyles and can easily be replaced by the same or similar products being manufactured from biomass. Some products that can be manufactured from biomass include such things as antifreeze, plastics, acids for photographic film, oil, wood adhesives, foam insulation, glues, and even toothpaste gel or artificial sweeteners. Scientific research is currently ongoing to provide cost effective methods of providing these ecologically preferable products to consumers.

Crops for Biomass Utilize Inhospitable Agricultural Land

One concern that many people have is where the land will come from that is used to produce crops for biomass. It has been a real concern that agricultural land which is needed for producing foods for human or animal consumption will be taken over. This is not the case because many crops which are otherwise inedible can be used in the production of biomass fuels. The added benefit to this is that as crops are harvested for use in biomass, they can be immediately replanted. Because of this, biomass can be harvest yearly instead of having to wait millions of years for the fossil fuels that we currently use.

Biomass provides a cleaner and renewable source of energy as well as the ability to reduce dependence on oil. More and more uses are being discovered as research continues in this amazing field with the current emphasis being placed on the fact that Biomass is not only affordable but is also a safer alternative fuel. With this in mind, new bio fuels will become more easily available in the future which in turn provides a solution to some of the current ecological and atmospheric concerns.