Biomass energy is produced using organic material, such as waste or wood. Biomass is used to generate power for a municipality in a biomass power plant, or can be used to create biofuel. Industrial biomass can be derived from numerous types of organic plants, in addition to waste or wood. Corn, soybean, sugarcane, switchgrass, hemp, poplar and palm are all used in biomass/ biofuel production (just to name a few sources).
An application of biomass energy with several benefits is landfill waste burned in power plants, which puts garbage to good use, and cuts down on the size of dumps. Also among the many existing, abundant resources which can be used effectively for biomass energy production are landfill gasses (LFG’s), primarily methane (methane is the significant LFG). Landfill gases can be captured and then used to run generators in power plants, and along with solid waste, to supply energy to the grid. Another category of biomass energy, biofuel, represents an energy source which is being applied with greater frequency in modern transportation.
Biofuels are broken down into two types: ethanol and biodiesel. Corn, palm, soybean and sugarcane are examples of crops that are fermented to create ethanol. Ethanol can also be produced from cellulosic biomass such as switchgrass, wood chips, stover, sorghum and rice hulls. These are just some of the many cellulosic plants and organic materials that can readily be converted into sugars and then fermented into ethanol. A small level (5-10%) of ethanol can be blended with standard gas to make an effective gasoline with less environmental impact (this type of gas is used in many first world nations). Just this relatively low level of ethanol decreases greenhouse gas emissions significantly.
A fuel known as E-85, 85% ethanol and 15% gas, is gaining popularity throughout the world. There are many grades of ethanol-based biofuel, from E-5 and E-10 to E-100. Both ethanol-based biofuel and biodiesel are put to great use in countries such as Sweden, Brazil, Finland, Italy and Ireland, just to mention a few.
Biodiesel is derived from animal fats, vegetable oil and other lipids, which are processed with chemicals or alcohol. Biodiesel is mixed with traditional hydrocarbon-based diesel (i.e. B-2, B-5, B-20) or used as a clean fuel replacement for diesel (B-100). The US, Germany, France, Brazil and Argentina are the biggest producers of biodiesel. The future of biodiesel lies in using promising, emerging sources such as algae.
A large part of algae’s weight is in the form of lipids, making it ideal for biofuel. Often, over half of algae’s weight is extractable to produce the oil needed for biofuel. Algae has over 100 times more oil density than soybean and over 10 times more than palm oil.