What is Biomass Energy?

Dr. Purushothaman
October 8, 2013

Biomass sources comprise a wide variety of materials such as forest and mill residues, agricultural crops and wastes, wood and wood wastes, animal wastes, livestock operation residues, aquatic plants, fast-growing trees & other types of plants e.g. grasses, as well as municipal and industrial wastes. These biomass materials can be burned or converted into a gas and used as fuel.

A source of energy such as biomass is one of the ways forward in reducing our dependency on fossil fuels, plus stabilizing (and/or reducing) the CO2 in the atmosphere. The term "biomass" refers to organic matter which can be converted to energy; the name "biomass" being invented in approximately 1975 to describe natural materials used as energy sources.

Commercial bio-refinery usually produces large quantities of waste, mostly sold as animal feed. This kind of waste can be used as a source of energy, such as for electricity, heating or as a fertiliser.

Despite huge increases in the price of crude oil during 2006 and 2007, as well as an increase in the coal prices, the production cost of various bio-energy fuels still do not match the production prices of fossil fuels, such as coal. This means that the present scenario for the commercially produced bio-fuel is still far from being realistic for the international market in general.

Therefore, there is an urgent need for a change in the production cost to make bio-energy "affordable". That means if the cost can be brought down further, may be even lower than the present prices of fossil fuels, then that will be a great achievement for everyone concerned.

This kind of energy source transformation can be achieved successfully by following basic but important technical and business rules. It is important that this kind of transformation should happen with the appropriate support of the governments concerned and their local authorities.

General, as well as specialised, comprehensive investigations related to scientific, technical and commercial matters should be considered and analysed, as well as the conditions required for this kind of business, on a long term basis.

Economic analysis forms an important part of any new type of research, in particular when it comes to the energy issue. Biomass energy research and applications, therefore, should concentrate not just on the technical and scientific issues, but most importantly on the wider commercial market, through which the biomass fuels can be selected for various types of commercial applications.

The aims for various types of renewable sources of energy are very similar to each other, in that they all have one target: Energy that can be economical, sustainable, and environmentally acceptable.

In comparison with other types of renewable source of energy, biomass research and development, as well as applications are taking the lead in a number of countries across the globe (Biomass Energy report, ODE, USA 2002). USA and Europe provide good examples when it comes to biomass energy utilization. As a consequence, various methods have been created to establish certain facts concerning biomass materials as a reliable source of energy.

"By 2020, the United States is estimated to have a maximum of 7.1 quadrillion Btu of biomass available at prices of $5 per million Btu or lower." (Haq Z. "Biomass for Electricity Generation", 2004).

As the need arises with every passing day for an alternative source of energy, where environmental issues, long term supply/availability and economical reasons form the paramount factors, reliable methods, therefore, will be vital in helping to find the right biomass materials for the ever increasing need for environmentally friendly, renewable, sources of energy.

"Without technological and/or behavioural intervention, atmospheric concentration of GHGs will continue to increase...." (dti Project report 2005).


1. "Biomass Energy" Report, Oregon Department of Energy, USA 2002.
2. Kartha S., Larson E.D. "Bioenergy Primer: Modernised Biomass Energy for Sustainable Development" United Nations Development Programme 2000.
3. "Securing a place for Biomass in the northeast United State: a review of renewable energy and related policies", 2003. 4. Bauen A., Woods J., Hailes R. "Biopowerswitch!" Imperial College London, Centre for Energy Policy and Technology and E4tech (UK) Ltd., 2004.
5. Haq Z. "Biomass for Electricity Generation" US Department of Agriculture, (Agricultural Statistics 2001), 2004.

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