Biomass fuels show more promise as a means of replacing the fossil fuels that are consumed at such a high rate world wide than any other means of producing energy thus far investigated. Biomass is a very abundant resource that is completely renewable, unlike fossil fuels. Yet, many people do not see the relationship between biomass and agriculture.
Biomass is essentially the waste matter produced by living and not long dead organisms. It can be in the form of dead wood, fallen leaves, trimmings from a landscaping task, dung, dead carcasses, and waste parts from animal processing plants that produce food.
Left to the wiles of nature, production of biomass can be a slow process. If one harvests a tree and uses it as fuel to create energy, that tree can take many years to replace. Agriculture, on the other hand, produces large amounts of biomass already that go untapped as sources of energy. Let's look at how that works.
Farmers raise crops to produce food that feeds the entire world. Some is consumed directly by humans and the rest is used as feed for livestock to fatten them up for the slaughter. However, we do not use all of the plants that are grown. Often, the part of the plant that makes up the crop being grown, for example ears of corn or beans, is harvested and the rest of the plant is left as waste.
This wasted material is a type of raw biomass that could be processed to produce fuel pellets for firing a furnace or generating electricity in a power plant. Some plants can be processed to create a form of alcohol that is a powerful, clean burning substitute for petroleum.
The internal organs and other waste matter from animal processing plants and slaughter operations is normally just treated as waste and hauled to a landfill somewhere for disposal. These animal products can be processed to extract methane gas, which is very similar in makeup and the amount of energy it creates when burned to natural gas.
If farmers and ranchers were compensated for these materials that are currently treated as waste and the materials were taken to a nearby processing facility designed to produce biomass fuels from such raw materials, the agriculture industry would begin to show a profit again and the energy industry would have an abundant source of fuel that is renewable at all times. As it stands now, there is no incentive for agriculture workers to attempt to salvage waste matter for any purpose other than as fertilizer for the next crop.
The relationship between biomass and agriculture could be a very close one, with both industries supplying each other in a mutually profitable cycle if more work were done to refine the processes of converting raw biomass into usable fuels that yield a sufficient amount of energy. Studies are still being done and new methods tested on a daily basis to extract as much energy as possible from material that would otherwise simply be wasted.