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In energy production and industry, biomass refers to living and recently living biological material which can be used as fuel or for industrial production. Most commonly biomass refers to plant matter grown for use as biofuel, but also includes plant or animal matter used for production of fibres, chemicals or heat. It excludes organic material which has been transformed by geological processes into substances such as coal or petroleum. It is usually measured by dry weight.

Energy resource

The term biomass is especially useful for plants, where some internal structures may not always be considered living tissue, such as the wood (secondary xylem) of a tree. Biofuel is any fuel that is derived from biomass — recently living organisms or their metabolic byproducts, such as manure from cows. It is a renewable energy source, unlike other natural resources such as petroleum, coal and nuclear fuels. One definition of biofuel is any fuel with an 80% minimum content by volume of materials derived from living organisms harvested within the ten years preceding its manufacture.

Like coal and petroleum, biomass is a form of stored solar energy. The energy of the sun is "captured" through the process of photosynthesis in growing plants. (See also: Systems ecology) Like all methods used to generate energy, the combustion of biomass generates pollution as a by-product. One advantage of biofuel in comparison to most other fuel types is that the energy within the biomass can be stored for an indefinite time-period and without any danger. Biofuels include bioethanol, biobutanol and biodiesel these two last ones are direct biofuels (so they can be used directly in petroleum engines). Biomass is grown from several plants, including switchgrass, hemp, corn, and sugarcane. The particular plant used is usually not important to the end product. Production of biomass is a growing industry as interest in sustainable fuel sources is growing. Biomass may also include animal waste, which may be burnt as fuel. Other uses of biomass, besides fuel:

building materials

biodegradable plastics and paper (using cellulose fibers)

An energy crop is a non-edible plant domesticated for use in agriculture, considered as a group (e.g., the farmers produced a bumper crop of pineapple guavas this year), or its non-edible produce as a harvest, to be used to make biofuels.Biotechnology can be used to improve the plants, so they can yield more to produce biofuel, their cultivation cost less, uses less water, they are fast-growing or grow quicker. Dendro energy is energy generated by burning wood grown for the purpose. Anaerobic digesters are often fed with waste materials. Energy crops can also be grown to generate biogas directly from high yield crops or to boost gas yields where feedstocks have a low energy content.

Agricultural products specifically grown for use as biofuels include corn and soybeans, primarily in the United States, as well as flaxseed and rapeseed, primarily in Europe, and hemp is a growing crop around the world except for in America. Biodegradable outputs from industry, agriculture, forestry, and households can also be used to produce bioenergy examples include straw, timber, manure, sewage, biodegradable waste and food leftovers. These feedstocks are converted into biogas through anaerobic digestion. Biomass used as fuel often consists of underutilized types, like chaff and animal waste. Much research is currently in progress into the utilization of microalgae as an energy source, with applications being developed for biodiesel, ethanol, methanol, methane, and even hydrogen. On the rise is use of hemp, although politics currently restrains this technology.

Paradoxically, in some industrialized countries like Germany, food is cheaper than fuel compared by price per joule. Central heating units supplied by food grade wheat or maize are available. Biofuel can be used both for central- and decentralized production of electricity and heat. As of 2005, bioenergy covers approximately 15% of the world's energy consumption. Most bioenergy is consumed in developing countries and is used for direct heating, as opposed to electricity production. However, Sweden and Finland supply 17% and 19% respectively, of their energy needs with bioenergy, a high figure for industrialized countries.

The production of biofuels to replace oil and natural gas is in active development, focusing on the use of cheap organic matter (usually cellulose, agricultural and sewage waste) in the efficient production of liquid and gas biofuels which yield high net energy gain. The carbon in biofuels was recently extracted from atmospheric carbon dioxide by growing plants, so burning it does not result in a net increase of carbon dioxide in the Earth's atmosphere. As a result, biofuels are seen by many as a way to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere by using them to replace non-renewable sources of energy. Noticeable is the fact that the quality of timber or grassy biomass does not have a direct impact on its value as an energy-source.

Dried compressed peat is also sometimes considered a biofuel. However, it does not meet the criteria of being a renewable form of energy, or of the carbon being recently absorbed from atmospheric carbon dioxide by growing plants. Though more recent than petroleum or coal, on the time scale of human industrialisation, peat is a fossil fuel and burning it does contribute to atmospheric CO2.

Butanol may be used as a fuel in an internal combustion engine. It is in several ways more similar to gasoline than ethanol is. Butanol has been demonstrated to work in some vehicles designed for use with gasoline without any modification. It can be produced from biomass as well as fossil fuels. Some call this biofuel biobutanol to reflect its origin, although it has the same chemical properties as butanol produced from petroleum. Biogas, typically refers to a (biofuel) gas produced by the anaerobic digestion or fermentation of organic matter including manure, sewage sludge, municipal solid waste, biodegradable waste or any other biodegradable feedstock, under anaerobic conditions. If biogas is cleaned up sufficiently, biogas has the same characteristics as natural gas. In this instance the producer of the biogas can utilise the local gas distribution networks. The gas must be very clean to reach pipeline quality. Water (H2O), hydrogen sulfide (H2S) and particulates are removed if present at high levels or if the gas is to be completely cleaned. Carbon dioxide is less frequently removed, but it must also be separated to achieve pipeline quality gas. If the gas is to be used without extensively cleaning, it is sometimes cofired with natural gas to improve combustion. Biogas cleaned up to pipeline quality is called renewable natural gas. In this form the gas can be now used in any application that natural gas is used for. Such applications include distribution via the natural gas grid, electricity production, space heating, water heating and process heating. If compressed, it can replace compressed natural gas for use in vehicles, where it can fuel an internal combustion engine or fuel cells.

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Biomass Program has a program to develop technology for conversion of biomass (plant-derived material) to valuable fuels, chemicals, materials and power, so as to reduce dependence on foreign oil and foster growth of biorefineries. Biomass is one of our most important energy resources. The largest U.S. renewable energy source every year since 2000, it also provides the only renewable alternative for liquid transportation fuel. Biomass use strengthens rural economies, decreases America's dependence on imported oil, avoids use of MTBE or other highly toxic fuel additives, reduces air and water pollution, and reduces greenhouse gas emissions. Today's biomass uses include ethanol, biodiesel, biomass power, and industrial process energy.

Tomorrow, biorefineries will use advanced technology such as hydrolysis of cellulosic biomass to sugars and lignin and thermochemical conversion of biomass to synthesis gas for fermentation and catalysis of these platform chemicals to produce slates of biopolymers and fuels. To expand the role of biomass in America's future, the DOE Office of the Biomass Program fosters biomass technologies with a balanced portfolio of research and development. While there are various other technologies for biomass conversion, the following graphic shows those that the Biomass Program is concentrating on, as outlined in its Multi-Year Program Plan

External articles and references

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Alternative Diesel Fuels - A beginner's tutorial on using vegetable oil as fuel in a diesel engine

Alternative Fuels Portal

Anaerobic Digestion from Municipal Waste

Educational Web Site for Biomass and Bioenergy

Biopact: bioenergy pact between Europe and Africa.

Biofuel Planet

Biomass as Feedstock for a Bioenergy and Bioproducts Industry


IEA Bioenergy


Ghent Bio Energy Valley

High performance by steam turbine for biomass-fired CHP plant in Iisalmi, Finland

IEA Bioenergy - Task 29

Waste Vegetable Oil Conversion News

What is Biodiesel

PEFI Alcohol Process Development & Demonstration (EcaleneTM)

Russian National Biofuels Association

There was an error working with the wiki: Code[1], Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation.

US Department of Energy Biomass Program. Develops technology for conversion of biomass to fuels, chemicals, materials, and power. Includes general information about biofuels, program research.

See also


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