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Biomass is a renewable energy source. It utilises all sorts of animal and plant matter - including wood, plant waste, manure from livestock and human sewage - and converts it into useable fuels such as ethanol or alcohol (liquids) and biogases (gas).
how biomass works
The natural decomposition of biomass produces heat, which in turn is used to produce energy. The biomass process accelerates this natural process and utilises the resulting heat to drive turbines which in turn create electricity. Biomass does not add extra carbon dioxide to the environment; it merely accelerates a natural process.
advantages of biomass
There are several advantages from using biomass to generate electricity:
- It is a renewable fuel
- It has the potential to be greenhouse neutral (so long as smoke is either not produced, or captured)
- It consumes methane (a greenhouse gas)
- Fuels such as ethanol can be made from biomass and used as an alternative to petrol to power cars
- It solves a waste disposal problem for the agriculture industry
- Unlike some other renewable energy sources (e.g., wind and solar) biomass can be stored and used when needed with minimal energy loss
disadvantages of biomass
However, biomass has the following disadvantages:
- A large area of land is required for the production of the fuel
- Organic matter is burned which might have benefited the land if it had been allowed to remain
- It has relatively low energy density which makes transport and handling costs uneconomical.
- The energy conversion process has to be located close to a large source of biomass (e.g., a sawmill, sugar mill or pulp mill)
- Biomass produces odours and can be a source of disease