Calculating The Amount of Biomass Used Per Year is Not an Easy Task!
When considering the amount of biomass used per year, you must first understand what biomass is. This is a renewable energy source as biomass is biological material.
Biomass can come from living plants or from organisms that are decomposing but were once alive. You can use biomass directly (burning wood) or can convert it into products such as biofuels.
Burning biomass to create electricity uses steam turbines or produces heat with direct combustion. Using biomass is ecologically friendly as dead trees, tree branches, wood chips and even clippings from your yard are biomass materials.
The tons of garbage produced each day is potentially biomass material that could be converted into energy if and when the technology is financially feasible.
Trash to Energy
Converting trash to energy is an exciting prospect as hauling and storing and maintaining huge waste facilities is a problem for our society. Landfills are huge pits that are filled with waste and garbage for several years.
When the pits can hold no more, about 8-10 feet of fill dirt is added to the top of the garbage pit (after the garbage remains have been compressed). In theory, this solves the garbage problem and creates new green space.
In practice, the garbage stored beneath the layers of fill dirt continues to decompose and produce methane gas.
During the filling process, pipes are installed into the garbage pit and the resulting green space of a closed and filled waste dump are dotted with pipe that release methane gas.
In time, even the firmly compressed garbage loses volume and the green space above is at risk of sink holes and can become unstable.
Third World Countries
Developing nations and third world countries use more biomass energy because they lack modern technology. In some countries, the entire forests have been decimated and the wood used for wood cooking fires (biomass fuel).
This has been done without any concern for the environment as survival of the population was the primary concern. When the trees have been cleared it can take many years for new growth to appear.
The cleared land is prone to erosion of wind and rain and in dry, arid climates top soil blows away leaving land that is useless for growing crops.
In the U.S. the biomass used per year might surprise you. Ethanol uses food crops as biomass to produce a gasoline additive that is in common use today.
It is difficult, if not impossible, to fill your tank with gas that does not contain ethanol. This has led to some debate about the value and wisdom of using food crops to create fuel for vehicles.
Corn crops have been affected by the increased usage of biomass. Corn is the main crop used to produce ethanol. Corn prices have risen drastically due to high sales of the crops.
However, the amount of corn used for food has declined even though more and more farmers have abandoned what and other grains to grow profitable corn crops.
Growing populations around the world require more and more farm crops for basic survival. Thus, many experts question the use of corn as an additive to gasoline. Nevertheless, Ethanol has become a staple in the U.S. and an entire industry has grown up around this one product.
Much biomass used per year is industrial biomass and many different plants can be used such as switchgrass, hemp, corn, poplar, sorghum and sugarcane. Some varieties of trees such as eucalyptus and oil palm are also used as biomass fuel.
Biomass is carbon, hydrogen and oxygen based. It can be derived from garbage, wood, plant and animal waste and gases from landfills. Biomass is used to create fuels, to provide heat and to produce electrical power.
Biomass is one of the oldest sources of energy and yet is the newest focus of renewable energy. Burning wood was one of the basic methods to cook and provide warmth for hundreds of years.
Even today in many regions of the U.S. there are homes that utilize wood-burning stoves. In part due to the environmental movement, many of those stoves are now being converted to pellet stoves to conserve forests.
The vision of how much biomass could be used per year in the future varies widely. If technology is able to provide an inexpensive way to convert biomass of waste products and garbage into usable energy to power our electrical grids, it would be a major advance that could solve several problems at once.
Fossil fuels are not going to last forever. Biomass has the potential to replace or greatly reduce the reliance on oil and coal in the future. At the same time, the science of biomass has far to go before creating energy from garbage is a realistic option.