Advantages and Disadvantages of Biomass

Advantages and Disadvantages of Biomass

The world is reeling due to the unprecedented effects of climate change. We are currently facing a global climate emergency. There are relentless efforts ongoing for the process of moving into a low-carbon and sustainable future. One of the ways to call for action is to invest in cleaner energy like biomass energy. But is it as efficient and clean as it claims?

WHAT IS BIOMASS?

Biomass is an organic plant or animal material used for the production of energy. It uses stored energy from the sun. The process of photosynthesis absorbs the energy derived from the sun. When biomass is burned, the energy is then released as heat. It can be directly burned or converted into fuel like biogas or biofuel. Plants, woods, manure, and any waste are examples of biomass material. They are also useful in making methane gas, biodiesel, and even electricity generation with a steam turbine.

Bio-mass can be classified into two categories based on its source. These are first-generation biofuels and second-generation biofuels. First-generation biofuels include food sources like bagasse fibers from sugarcane and corn starch. For example, bioethanol is a by-product of biomass which is an additive to gasoline. Second-generation biofuels or advanced biofuels use non-food sources like agricultural and municipal waste. Additionally, the plant and animal waste is specifically used as a source of fuel and is not just a by-product.

BIO-MASS CONVERSION METHODS

There are various ways of converting biomass into energy. These include thermal conversions, biochemical conversions, chemical and electrochemical conversions. Firstly, the thermal conversion is the process of converting biomass into fuel with the help of heat. Secondly, biochemical conversion is the process of breaking down biomass molecules with the help of biochemical processes for energy. Thirdly, chemical conversion is the process of converting biofuel into commodity chemicals. This helps in easier storage and transport. Finally, electrochemical conversion is the process of converting biomass directly into electrical energy with the help of electrochemical oxidation of the biomass material.

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Advantages and Disadvantages of Biomass
A Biomass Plant

ADVANTAGES OF BIOMASS

Renewable

One of the major advantages of biomass is that it is renewable. Renewable energy is energy that is naturally restored like wind, air, and sunlight and they are replenished after use. It can generate power using renewable assets like plant waste, wood waste, and wood pellets. Most biomass fuels like wood and plants are renewable as they easily regrow. Bio-mass also has the greatest potential of any renewable energy available for baseload electric power production. This will significantly enhance the energy security of a nation.

In 2019, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, estimated net imports of biomass-based diesel was an average of 23,000 barrels per day. This may increase to 28,000 barrels per day in 2020 and 39,000 barrels per day in 2021 respectively. Hence, this is a great source of energy in comparison to fossil fuels. Fossil fuels are non-renewable sources of energy formed by natural processes from the remains of dead animals or plants.

Easy Availability

Bio-mass is easily available and abundant in large quantities across nations. Resources that are needed for bio-mass fuel can be found anywhere in the world. So, residuals in the agriculture industry like bagasse from sugarcane, straw from wheat and rice, manure from cattle and poultry, hulls, and nutshells are some of the examples of biomass needed for conversion of bio-mass. Similarly, wood waste like sawdust, timber slash, and pellets are also organic material for biomass. Wastes from cities like paper and yard wastes are also utilized judiciously. Methane and other gases formed from dead organic matter are found in landfills and water treatment plants. This is converted into fuel for generating electricity. Therefore, bio-mass fuel is a better replacement for fossil fuels which are now slowly depleting.

Economic Benefits

Biomass energy has a lot of economic benefits and is cost-effective. In comparison to fuels like coal and oil, biomass energy is inexpensive. It is almost one-third of the cost of fossil fuels. This low cost will attract not only producers who can earn better profits for lesser output but also the consumers. Additionally, as the popularity of renewable energy increases, the market will grow which leads to more employment opportunities. In 2017, biomass fuel provided for almost five percent of total primary energy in the United States.

Environmental Benefits

There are several environmental benefits of biomass. The use of biomass greatly reduces greenhouse gas emissions. Unlike fossil fuels that release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, biomass energy is carbon neutral. In other words, plants absorb carbon from the atmosphere because of photosynthesis. The carbon goes back into the atmosphere once this plant is burned down. So there is no additional amount of carbon in the air. This ensures balance and does not further contribute to global warming. Similarly, as biomass uses waste for fuel, it is biodegradable. This reduces any damage to the natural environment and wildlife around the resources. Hence, biomass as a closed carbon cycle is a very useful energy source.

DISADVANTAGES OF BIOMASS

Not 100% Clean

One of the biggest disadvantages is that it is not completely clean as an energy source. Biomass energy is a carbon-neutral fuel source. But it does create emissions other than carbon. Burning wood and other trees cause pollution in the environment similar to the emissions of coal and other resources. Therefore, there is a lot of debate on referring to the biomass energy as renewable as it is not clean or efficient.

Low Efficiency

Biomass energy is not as efficient as compared to other energy sources like petroleum or gasoline. For instance, ethanol is one of the products of biomass. It has to be mixed with gasoline to make it more efficient for use in combustion engines. As a result, this completely defeats the purpose of using cleaner energy as an alternative to fossil fuels as gasoline is an example of fossil fuel. Also, ethanol is harmful for long-term use.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Biomass

Expensive

Biomass is more expensive in comparison to other alternative fuels. Though the process of extracting it is cheaper than most renewable energies, the process of producing it is higher. Additionally, bio-mass processes require a lot of space which is also very cumbersome. Gathering of the required resources, transportation, and the cost for the harm it does to the environment – all of this is not worth the price of completion as there are more efficient and cheaper alternatives.

Not Environmentally Feasible

Biomass energy creates certain environmental concerns. This fuel uses a lot of natural materials like wood that are burned for the production of power. For this it cuts down on forest areas and wildlife which could lead to their extinction. This can result in widespread deforestation unless contained. Similarly, it also requires a huge amount of water resources for its production. This leads to an increase in irrigation costs as well as the scarcity of water resources. Hence, the viability of this energy source is questionable.

In conclusion, biomass energy has a lot of potential if all its limitations are worked on. Above all, it can become one of the most viable options for clean energy.

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Pros and Cons

PROS

CONS

Renewable

Not 100% Clean

Easy Availability

Low Efficiency

Economic Benefits

Expensive

Environmental Benefits

No Environmentally Feasible

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Anchita Nair