The Future of The Biomass Plant
If environmentalists are to be believed, the biomass plant will come into its own in the next generation. Wind farms will cast stork-like shadows on the land and emerge like water lilies from the surface of the oceans off our coasts.
Homes built for passive and solar energy will be standard and affordable and the earth will be greener and cleaner.
It may sound like a futuristic dream but the reality we live with is the depletion of fossil fuels is advancing at a rate much greater than predicted.
The demand for more electrical power is not limited to North America. Huge population centers in India and China are powering more cars and homes and the competition for fossil fuels is increasing.
A biomass plant takes advantage of an old source of fuel to create a new source of electrical power. Fuels used are natural plant materials such as wood, natural debris and agricultural crops.
The possibility of using animal waste and even garbage to power a biomass plant could carry advantages beyond energy production.
One problem faced by many highly populated countries is how to dispose of the waste we discard every day.
Waste disposal is a big problem in the U.S. and it's true we have a reputation for creating a high proportion of waste.
The waste is picked up at curbside once or twice a week in most towns and cities and is transported to landfills where it is dumped in a huge, stinking pile.
At some point, the landfill cannot hold more waste and a new disposal site is required. It's true that many landfills have been filled, leveled and planted to provide land that is usable for parks or at least land that has a natural appearance.
However, under a few feet of fill dirt is a decomposing mass of trash. There may be chemicals that leech into the soil and water tables and sink holes can develop far into the future as waste decomposes.
Some states and cities want to take their trash elsewhere for dumping and there is big business for barges that haul trash from one place to another for disposal.
A biomass plant can use the refuse to generate power. New technologies are emerging that may allow us to recycle large amount of the trash we discard every day and have that refuse recycled into usable power to light and heat our homes.
Another concern is the animal waste on large farms where livestock is highly concentrated as it's grown for market. A little animal waste can make good fertilizer - too much waste and gases are emitted and the soil contaminated.
If that waste can be dried and burned as biomass fuel, again a biomass plant would be solving more than one problem.
Biomass plants can burn plant matter to product electricity or can convert the fuels to other usable product such as ethanol and biodiesel.
The main ingredient of natural gas is methane gas. Smelly, rotten garbage, agricultural and even human waste naturally release methane gas. This is commonly referred to as landfill gas.
To produce fuel in a biomass plant, crops can be fermented to produce ethanol which is a common additive today to gasoline for our cars.
Only about 3% of the energy used in the U.S. comes from biomass plants today. There is a drive on to improve biomass energy production so the process can help replace fossil fuels.
Effect on Environment
Burning biomass releases pollutants. When you burn wood in your fireplace, you are burning biomass fuel. Anyone who has smelled the acrid smoke of a forest fire or burning peat is aware of the irritants contained in the black thick smoke that fills the air.
Products to provide cleaner burning of wood in cook stoves and fireplaces is now on the market and greatly reduce pollutants released.
The first commercial biomass plants were quite small as they were design to burn the plant material available in the region surrounding the facility.
A small biomass plant must be highly efficient in producing power or costs will not be justified. Most of the small biomass plants are in European countries.
Transporting biomass fuels is big business today. Due to the volume and bulk of the materials, cost efficient transport is limited to movement by rail or by water.
The focus on ethanol production has lessened as the addition of ethanol to gasoline has not had the benefits that were predicted.
For biomass plants, the future is bright. Controlling emissions is a process that is improving and adding the ability to process animal waste and human trash and turn those useless products into consumable power is the wave of the future for this type of renewable energy source .