Biomass energy derived from plant and animal matter is one of many alternative fuel sources being looked at to replace the fossil fuels that man relies so heavily for energy. One of the things that makes biomass so appealing is that it is a renewable resource, while fossil fuels exist in finite amounts. However, in order understand its importance, one must understand the biomass energy pros and cons.
Biomass is a completely renewable resource. Fuel can be produced using grains and plant waste that would otherwise go unused. Many of these plants and grains can be replaced the very next growing season.
Organic waste in the form of dead trees, leaves, grass clippings, animal carcasses and byproducts from food processing exists in abundance and can be used to produce biomass energy. This means that a large amount of solid waste that is currently just dumped into landfills can be used as a source of energy.
Waste products generated by human activity, such as paper and household garbage can be collected and used as biomass to generate energy. This could have the effect of reducing the amount of waste generated and sent to landfills or placed on barges and sent out to sea by millions of tons a year.
Biomass can be used in many forms. It can be compressed into briquettes that are burned to produce heat, electricity, or other forms of energy. It can be processed and refined to produce alcohols and methane gas, both of which make clean burning sources of energy.
Finally, biomass energy can save a great deal of many in transportation costs alone because it can be used in the same area in which it is produced more cost effectively than having huge pipelines or long distance transmission lines.
Direct burning of biomass as fuel can release carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere at an accelerated rate, possibly contributing to the problem of global warming. These gases can also pose a risk to the ozone layer, increasing overall exposure to harmful UV rays from the sun.
In order to avoid this effect, converting biomass into a different form of fuel, such as alcohol or methane, is necessary. This conversion process requires an input of energy that can make biomass energy more costly than beneficial on a small scale.
The cost of accumulating and harvesting biomass in its raw form is much higher than the cost of extracting fossil fuels at the current time. It takes time and money to gather and transport biomass to a central point for processing into fuel.
A biomass power plant would require a great deal of space to accommodate the various stages of collection and conversion of the mass into fuel before burning it to produce electricity. Water can also be a problem as it would require large quantities to handle the recycling process for waste materials.
A careful look at the biomass energy pros and cons reveals that it is far from the perfect energy source that man would like, but it is still very promising as a replacement for the fossil fuels we use now.