Biomass refers to organic material in trees and living vegetation. It is made up of carbohydrates -- organic compounds that are found in growing plant life. Biomass is solar energy captured in organic matter. Growing plants and trees use the process of photosynthesis (which takes solar energy) to change carbon dioxide into carbohydrates (cellulose, sugars and starches). Carbohydrates are the organic compounds that make up biomass and biofuels. When plants die, they decay and release the energy stored in carbohydrates back into the atmosphere.
Lumber is the best-known form of biomass. People have burned wood for heating and cooking for thousands of years. Lumber was the essential source of energy in the United States and throughout the world until the mid -1880’s. Much of the developing world today still uses lumber as a major source of energy. Today in the U.S, wood waste provides less than five percent of the energy we use.
Our garbage, or "municipal solid waste", is biomass. Trash that comes from plant or animal products is biomass. Animal wastes, livestock operation residues, agricultural crops and wastes, lawn clippings, and food scraps are all types of biomass trash. Glass, plastic and metals are not biomass because they are made out of non-renewable materials.
Biomass can be converted to other usable forms of energy like methane gas or transportation fuels like ethanol and biodiesel.
Biomass is one of our renewable energy sources, like wind power, geothermal energy, solar power, and hydroelectric power, because the growth of new plants and trees replenishes it's supply of energy generating raw material.
The use of biomass for energy causes no net increase in carbon dioxide emissions to the atmosphere. As trees and plants grow, they remove carbon from the atmosphere through photosynthesis. If the amount of new biomass growth balances the biomass used for energy, bioenergy is carbon dioxide “neutral”. In addition, using biomass to produce energy is often a way to dispose of waste materials that otherwise would create environmental risks.
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