Biomass includes food crops, grassy and woody plants, residues from agriculture or forestry, and the organic component of municipal and industrial wastes. Even the fumes from landfills (which are methane, a natural gas) can be used as a biomass energy source.
Biomass uses plant matter such as trees, grasses, agricultural crops or other biological material. It can be used as a solid fuel, or converted into liquid or gaseous forms, for the production of electric power, heat, chemicals, or fuels. By integrating a variety of biomass conversion processes, all of these products can be made in one facility, called a ‘biorefinery.’ Wood is still the largest biomass energy resource today, but other sources of biomass can also be used.
In Hawaii, industrial collaborators will use sugar cane to produce ethanol and electricity. The biomass Super ESPC is scheduled for award in spring of 2000.
Bioenergy crops are so diverse that they grow in virtually every part of the U.S. These crops range from grasses and perennial plants such as alfalfa to fast-growing trees and this sugarcane, which helps light up the i slands of Hawaii. Most agricultural residue can be used to generate electricity, including the fibrous material left over from processing sugarcane crops such as this one in Hawaii.
Selling power to electric utilities helps to improve the economics of sugar production for local companies. The phytochelation process converts the normally discarded portion of sugar cane into a viable fertilizer replacement that improves crop yields and lowers fertilizer run-off problems. (NREL)
Unlike other renewable energy sources, biomass can be converted directly into liquid fuels, called "biofuels" or "alcohol fuels," to help meet transportation fuel needs. The two most common types of biofuels are ethanol and biodiesel. (NREL, Biomass Research)
Made by combining alcohol (usually methanol) with vegetable oil, animal fat, or recycled cooking grease. It can be used as an additive (typically 20%) to reduce vehicle emissions or in its pure form as a renewable alternative fuel for diesel engines. (NREL, Biofuels)
A colorless, volatile, flammable, liquid alcohol. It is an alcohol made by fermenting any biomass high in carbohydrates through a process similar to beer brewing. Today, ethanol is made from starches and sugars, but scientists are developing technology to allow it to be made from cellulose and hemicellulose, the fibrous material that makes up the bulk of most plant matter. Ethanol is mostly used as blending agent with gasoline to increase octane and cut down carbon monoxide and other smog-causing emissions.