Biomass Energy Overview
Biomass is a type of renewable energy made from plants and animals. Until the mid-1800s, biomass was the largest source of U.S. energy consumption, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. It remains an important source of fuel in many developing countries and still makes up about 5 percent of U.S. energy use.
Interested in learning more about biomass energy? Keep reading to learn how biomass energy works, what it’s used for, how much it costs, and more.
How biomass energy works
Biomass is renewable organic material that contains stored chemical energy from the sun. It can be converted into energy using several different processes. Some of the most common sources of biomass energy include:
- Wood and wood processing waste
- Agricultural crops and waste materials
- Biogenic materials in municipal solid waste
- Animal and human sewage
The primary way that biomass is converted into energy is through direct combustion, which is when the biomass is burned to heat buildings and water and to generate electricity. Other processes of converting biomass into energy include thermochemical conversion, chemical conversion, and biological conversion.
After it’s converted into energy, biomass can be used for industrial, transportation, residential, electric power, and commercial purposes.
Biomass energy for your home
Roughly 10 percent — equal to 424 Btu (British thermal units) — of biomass energy in the United States is used for residential purposes. When biomass energy is used for residential purposes, it is mainly in the form of firewood and wood pellets that are used for heating. Most commonly, it’s used by people with wood-burning stoves in their homes.
While biomass energy can be used in homes, that’s not its primary use. Instead, roughly 50 percent of biomass energy is consumed for industrial and transportation uses. It’s often used in heat and power plants to process heat and generate electricity. It can also be used to create fuel for the transportation industry.
Cost of biomass energy
Using biomass energy in your home generally requires installing a boiler or pellet stove, and the costs can vary significantly. The average cost of a home pellet stove is about $5,500. However, for a log boiler or an automatically-fed pellet boiler for your home, you may pay between $15,000 and $19,000. That being said, many home improvement stores carry small self-installation pellet stoves for considerably lower costs. Wood-burning fireplaces are another way to use biomass in homes. These types of fireplaces normally cost between $1,900 to $3,300 to install, although they are often commonly found pre-installed in older homes.
Where is biomass energy thriving?
In the mid-1800s, biomass was the single largest energy source in the United States. Today it makes up a significantly smaller portion, accounting for just 5 percent of U.S. energy use. In the United States, biomass energy generation is most prevalent in California, Georgia, Florida, Virginia, and Alabama, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
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That being said, biomass energy is still an important source of energy for heating and cooking in many developing areas. The areas where biomass energy is most prevalent include Ethiopia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Tanzania, Nigeria, and Haiti.
FAQs about biomass energy
How is biomass energy used?
Biomass energy is used primarily in the industrial and transportation sectors to create heat and generate electricity for plants and to create fuel for transportation. The industrial sector consumes about 50 percent of all biomass energy in the country, while transportation uses 28 percent. In the commercial and residential sectors, biomass plays a smaller role, accounting for just 3 and 10 percent of total biomass energy consumed in the U.S., respectively. Finally, the electric power sector uses biomass energy to generate energy to sell, accounting for about 9 percent of biomass consumption.
Is biomass energy a renewable resource?
Yes, biomass energy is a renewable resource. Biomass includes sources such as wood, agricultural crops, biogenic materials, and animal and human sewage, which are naturally occurring without manmade help. Its energy is a result of the stored chemical energy from the sun, which is also a renewable resource.
What percentage of U.S. electricity comes from biomass energy?
In 2020, roughly 5 percent of energy use in the United States came from biomass energy. Biomass was once the main source of energy in the U.S., but has since been widely replaced with fossil fuels (like coal and oil) and other renewable power sources such as solar power or wind energy.
What is the total generating capacity of biomass in the U.S.?
In 2020, the United States produced roughly 5 quadrillion British thermal units (Btu) of biomass energy, primarily from wood, biofuels, and municipal waste.