In this guide:
What is biomass?
How is biomass energy produced?
What are the advantages of biomass energy?
Is biomass energy bad for the environment?
How widely is biomass energy used?
Should I look for biomass renewable energy deals?
In the field of renewable energy, biomass is possibly one of the least understood. We all know roughly what tidal power or wind farms do and how they turn water and wind into energy that powers our homes, but what’s biomass? Is it a good source of renewable energy? How does it work? Read on to find out.
Biomass essentially refers to any plant or animal organic product that can be used as fuel, like wood chips, agricultural waste or even animal dung. It goes back to the earliest people using wood to fuel a fire, although we now know that the act of burning the wood is harmful to the environment. Biomass energy production works in a different way so that if wood is the main fuel, it’s turned into renewable energy in a less harmful manner than simply burning it.
Biomass products can be used by biomass plants to create heat, electricity and biofuels such as biodiesel and bioethanol, which were widely used in the 1800s before petroleum-based diesel was developed and popularised.
The most common way of turning biomass products into power is as follows:
The materials are burned to heat water;
The water produces steam, which spins turbines;
The turbine movement produces electricity.
It’s as simple as that - and the good news is that the plants should never run out of biomass materials to burn because we’ll always create waste and we’ll always cut the grass and other plants that can be used.
There are several advantages to using biomass energy:
As already mentioned, we’re unlikely to ever run out of biomass materials to use because we’ll always create waste, one way or another.
It’s a relatively cheap method of energy generation.
The process doesn’t produce any mercury or sulphur.
Biomass energy production uses waste that would otherwise go to landfill sites, which obviously helps the environment.
You can use biomass energy in your own home via a wood-burning stove or biomass boiler.
Most of the disadvantages around biomass energy centre on the fact that it’s not very good for the environment.
The main issue is that burning the biomass waste releases CO2 and carbon monoxide into the atmosphere. This obviously contributes to climate change and isn’t something that should be encouraged at this point in the battle against greenhouse emissions.
Biomass defenders argue that the process is carbon-neutral because animals and plant products that absorbed carbon dioxide when they were alive are simply having that carbon dioxide released back into the atmosphere. However, there are also trees and plants that are cut down specifically to be used in biomass energy production. This means that forests take a long time to get back to where they were before when it comes to sucking carbon out of the atmosphere.
Biomass is still considered to be a renewable energy source because plants and trees can be planted to replace those used in the process, but its harmful effects on the environment mean that many energy suppliers are reconsidering its place in the fuel mix they offer customers.
A study by the Office for National Statistics in August 2019 stated that, as of 2017, “almost 40% of energy consumption from renewable and waste sources is from Biomass”, making it the most prevalent form of renewable energy in the UK at that time. However, some energy providers, such as OVO, have removed biomass from their fuel mixes, citing wind and solar power as cleaner sources of renewable energy.
Before you sign up to a renewable energy deal, you should do some research to see how the energy you use is being generated. While you probably won’t be able to choose what percentage of your energy comes from biomass and what comes from tidal or solar power (for example), you can at least make an informed decision about the provider you sign up with.
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