Biomass, also sometimes referred to as biofuel, is any biological substance (part of the carbon cycle) that stores the sun’s energy as chemical energy and can thus be used in order to produce usable energy for us. This is because chemical energy stored in biomass makes it combustible which means it can be burned for heat energy which can then either be used directly to heat various facilities, or which can be used to be converted to electrical energy. There are countless examples of things that we can use as biomass, but the most obvious and most basic is wood, and all of us will have at some point used wood to burn to keep a campfire going or a log fire indoors.
This then produces bio energy in the form of fire which is sufficient to keep us warm and to provide light when we are camping or snuggling up in a log cabin. When you simply gather sticks and leaves and use them to make a fire then, you are in actual fact using biomass – an alternative form of energy which could help to reduce our dependency on fossil fuels.
Of course burning wood can’t save us from global warming or the energy crisis, and in fact wood burning on a large scale would actually worsen the effects of global warming in a multitude of ways – damaging the habitat of many creatures that live in the trees as well as eradicated one of the few methods we have to convert carbon back into oxygen.
Fortunately then many other agricultural byproducts are also able to provide us with stored energy and these include things like saw dust and even manure from animals which is a renewable source which is highly unlikely to run out. Again though with manure this is actually a relatively useful resource for other processes and is used for instance as fertilizer in order to provide the soil with the vital nutrients and minerals it needs in order to support a plethora of plant life.
However in Brazil an effective form of biomass has been found to be sugarcane bagasse (bagasse being the juice which is squeezed out of sugarcane stalks – though this is even more potent once it has been gassified) which is harvested specifically for this purpose – sugarcane being particularly useful for the amount of . Here a single mill is capable of producing more energy than the local power plant, and the bagasse is even sold elsewhere as fuel where it has been bought and saved millions of dollars on imports. Because this biomass can be re-grown faster than it is needed this is a highly useful renewable energy source, and at the same time it is also highly efficient with only 2.5% ash content compared to the 30-50% ash content of coal, and producing no sulfur and very little nitrous oxide due to the low temperatures needed to burn it. Despite all these positives however it is still not without its drawbacks and there are some concerns regarding the amount of land necessary for large scale growth as well as the damage it might do to the soil and local wildlife.