Bio energy is a form of energy that derives its power from biological materials. Often this word is used synonymously with biomass, though the distinction here is that biomass is the substance, while the term bio energy is used to refer to the energy created from that substance.
Biomass is considered any organic material which has stored energy from the sun as chemical energy and this can include woods, sugarcane, straw, manure and various other agricultural byproducts. This then is a renewable energy source which is based on the carbon cycle unlike petrol and coal which take many thousands of years to develop and are not renewable sources.
A very simple example of bio energy being used is how wood is used in order to fuel fires. As wood is combustible it can be used as a fuel to generate heat and this is something that we have done for thousands of years. Meanwhile manure, which is an unwanted and toxic byproduct of farming, can similarly be burned for fuel which is a highly efficient means of disposing it.
However biomass can also be used in order to provide more usable energy in the form of electricity and this is something that is used to full advantage in Brazil where sugarcane bagasse (bagasse being the juice squeezed from the stalk) is burned in order to provide heat for distillation as well as to provide electricity to run machines. This sugarcane is harvested especially for use as bio-fuel, and as a form of energy is highly beneficial capable of producing 1,000 to 9,000 MW per site depending on the precise methodology used (less conservative estimates assume the biomass has first been gasified, and that the best equipment is being used). This in comparison to Brazil’s own Angra I nuclear energy plant which only produces 657 MW is highly efficient. At the same time this form of energy generation doesn’t have half the negative impact on the environment – with an ash content of only 2.5% compared to the 30-50% of coal, and with no sulfur content. At the same time it burns at low temperatures so produces low amounts of nitrous oxides. The State of São Paulo on its own used 2 million tonnes of bagrasse for energy thus saving $35 million dollars in fuel imports. This makes it a highly beneficial and efficient form of energy and a good alternative to fossil fuels.
At the same time though bio energy is not without its detractors and there are concerns that without proper management, bio energy could result in the decline of farmland wildlife, damage to the quality of the water and soil, and a change to the character of several landscapes. Of course the use of bio energy where the crops have not been harvested specifically could also be damaging in other ways. For instance the use of manure for fuel means that it won’t be used in order to return the vital minerals and nutrients to the Earth. At the same time the use of wood as fuels could result in the destruction of many trees which are currently combating global warming by converting carbon into oxygen – as well as providing the habitats for countless creatures.