Carbon is the basis of all life as we know it. It combines with other elements, such as hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen in differing amounts to produce the organic molecules that make up all living things. When plants and animals die, that carbon is reabsorbed into the ground or released into the air where it is reused by living plants to produce food. Here, we will take a look at the relationship between biomass and carbon.
Some carbon that is stored in the ground is taken up by the roots of plants along with what they take out of the air for photosynthesis. However, some carbon remains trapped in the ground in the form of organic molecules that lie dormant for periods up to millions of years in length. Examples of this include coal, petroleum, and natural gas, all hydrocarbons that are used as fuel.
When these fossil fuels are burned as fuel, their carbon is released into the atmosphere in the form of carbon dioxide gas. This, along with other gases are accumulating in the atmosphere and leading to climatic changes because the carbon in fossil fuels has been out of the cycle for so long.
Biomass is being studied extensively as a potential replacement for fossil fuels. It has several advantages, being completely sustainable and renewable topping the list. Biomass is composed of waste material from plants and animals, and contains a lot of carbon. However, this carbon is still a part of the carbon system that works in the Earth. This means that proper use of biomass to produce energy instead of fossil fuels could lead to a net increase of zero in the carbon that is released into the atmosphere.
There are different ways to make use of the carbon found in biomass. Some can be converted to liquid fuels in the form of alcohols. Some can be captured in the form of methane gas, a combustible gas that contains approximately the same amount of energy as natural gas.
Still more can be captured in dry form by simply burning wood or grasses. In most cases, this plant material is compressed under a great deal of pressure to maximize the amount of energy per cubic foot.
The different types of biomass are being studied to determine what crops would be most beneficial for producing sustainable energy reserves in any given area. Forests, grasses, grains, and more are the subjects of these studies. The goal is to develop a completely sustainable system that displaces the use of fossil fuels by adding the use of biomass that can be replaced at the same rate it is used and that takes up carbon from the air as quickly as it is released.
Understanding the relationship between biomass and carbon is the first step toward developing a system of sustainable energy production using completely renewable resources. It is also a way to minimize the effects of man's activities on the global climate and to stop global warming through the buildup of greenhouse gases.