The use of biomass, waste products from the agriculture and forestry industries, has become a hot topic in the world of energy generation. These products can be converted to solid, liquid, or gas fuels that are capable of creating energy in much the same way that fossil fuels are used today, with the added advantage of being renewable sources of energy. One use of biomass fuels that also takes care of environmental impact issues of agriculture is biogas. Here, we will take a look at the environmental impact of using biomass and biogas technology.
Certain agricultural waste products, manure and animal byproducts from meat processing, are rich in moisture and can be efficiently converted to produce biogas. This gas is mostly methane, a highly flammable gas that can be used to operate electrical generators and to run internal combustion engines.
These products are accumulated at a very rapid rate in areas where large numbers of cattle, chickens, swine, and other animals are raised and processed. If left untreated, they would accumulate to a point that they would contaminate the area with bacteria and pollute streams and lakes. The smell of these materials as they rot could also be classed as air pollution.
Through the use of specialized equipment known as digesters, animal manure and unused parts such as entrails can be converted from waste mass to biogas. Most digesters are anaerobic in nature, meaning that they perform their work in an airless environment.
Digesters are inhabited by four or more different types of bacteria in a sealed environment. As waste matter enters the digester, the first bacteria starts breaking down the material into simpler components. The second bacteria takes the materials that were created by the first and breaks them down even further as they take their sustenance. The process continues through the entire group of symbiotic bacteria until the material that comes out the end of the digester is a dry plug of solid matter that can be burned in a furnace or to power a generator and biogas.
In most farming operations that utilize digesters, the biogas is then used to run the engines of electrical generators that are capable of supplying more power than the farm uses. It can also be used for cooking and heating water, as well as providing heat to maintain the digester at an optimum temperature for the bacteria inside.
The environmental impact of such a system is that it removes waste material that would be a potential source of pollution and converts it into usable energy. On farms that utilize this system, it also takes them off the primary energy grid or places them in a position of supplying power to the local electric utility, thus reducing, even if only by a small amount, the amount of fossil fuel needed to supply power in this area.
In other countries, Denmark being a prime example, farming operations that are too small to have their own digester system have the option to have their wastes transported to a central facility that sends the biogas produced back out to those contributing raw material.
Biomass and biogas technology has helped to improve the quality of our environment by eliminating agricultural wastes that would otherwise accumulate and become a major source of pollution and possible contamination.