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11 Different Types of Biomass To Know

The term “Biomass” sounds complicated, but it isn’t. It’s just material from animal and plant waste that we can convert into energy. Biomass has energy from the sun stored in it. Whereas plants get energy directly from the sun through photosynthesis, animals acquire this energy indirectly by consuming plants.

Biomass energy comes in many forms and shapes. In this article, we’ll take you through the different types of biomass energies you should know.

What Is Biomass?

Aerial view to biogas plant from pig farm in green fields. Renewable energy from biomass.
Kletr / Shutterstock

Biomass is a term that describes renewable organic material from animals and plants. Scientifically, it’s the total weight or quantity of organisms in a given volume or area. This organic matter is used as fuel, especially in various power stations, to generate electricity.  

In the 21st century, we’re doing our best to avoid fossil fuels harming the environment. However, finding one form of renewable energy that perfectly replaces fossil fuels is challenging. Biomass energy is one ideal energy source that we might consider transitioning to.

Top Types of Biomass Energy You Should Know

The two broad categories of biomass fuels include animal waste and woody fuels. These two are further broken down into several types of biomass fuels. Below are the top 11 biomass fuels you need to know.

1. Wet Animal Manure Biomass

Wet Animal Manure
sarangib / Pixabay

Dairy facilities collect wet animal manure in their larger facilities where cows are housed in free-stall barns. They collect animal manure through a flush system. Using this method and combining manure flushing and free-stall barns gathers all the manure in after each milking cycle, usually multiple times a day.

Because this method uses flush water, it dilutes the manure significantly. However, once some flush water is separated, the slurry becomes an excellent biomass fuel.

2. Dry Manure Biomass

Dry Animal Manure
Catkin / Pixabay

Dry manure typically has less than 30 percent moisture content. It’s usually a product of livestock corrals and feedlots. This manure is typically collected and removed once or twice a year.

The waste flushed or scrapped frequently can also be separated, stacked, and eventually allowed to dry. You can use dry manure to fuel a biomass-to-energy combustion project.

Animal manure has excellent value to farmers who use it as fertilizer. Nevertheless, the manure from livestock operations often exceeds the farmland’s manual requirements, making biomass-to-energy an ideal alternative manure disposal option.

3. Wet Waste Biomass (Dairy Manure Slurry)

Wet Waste
Del Barrett / Unsplash

Wet waste biomass includes residential, institutional, and commercial food waste especially disposed of in landfills. Other sources of wet waste include:

  • Biogases, the gaseous products of organic matter decomposition in the absence of oxygen
  • Organic wastes from industrial operations
  • Manure slurries from concentrated animal operations
  • Organic-rich bio-solids and municipal solid waste

By converting this waste into biomass energy, we can solve waste-disposal problems and help create additional revenue for rural areas’ economies where there is a lot of wet waste.

See Related: Types of Waste Disposal: Methods and Approaches

4. Sorted Municipal Waste (MSW)

Pile of Municipal Waste
Pexels / Pixabay

Sorted municipal wastes include mixed residential and commercial garbage, such as textiles, leather, rubber, plastics, paper and paperboards, yard trimmings, and food waste. MSW for bioenergy helps reduce commercial and residential waste by diverting significant volumes of waste from landfills to the refinery.

5. Wood Processing Residues

Wood  Chips Processing Residues
Ananth Pai / Unsplash

Wood processing creates waste streams and byproducts collectively known as wood processing residues. These byproducts have significant energy potential.

For instance, processing wood for pulp produces unused leaves, branches, bark, and sawdust. We can convert these residues into bioproducts and biofuels. Since these byproducts are residues already collected at the processing point, they’re relatively cheap and convenient biomass energy sources.  

6. Algal Biomass

Agae by the ocean
happy19 / Unsplash

Algae refer to a broad group of highly productive organisms, including cyanobacteria, macroalgae, and microalgae. Many use nutrients and sunlight to create algal biomass containing vital elements, including carbohydrates, proteins, and lipids. We can convert and upgrade these components into various products and biofuels.

Depending on the strain, algae can grow in brackish, saline, or freshwater from seawater, groundwater, and surface water sources. They also grow in water from second-use sources, such as:

  • Water generated from natural gas and oil drilling operations
  • Aquaculture, agricultural, and municipal wastewater
  • Treated industrial waste

These green, slimy plants tend to have desirable properties in biomass energy production. They can produce far greater biomass energy amounts per hectare than territorial biomass. Algae do not compete with food and other crops for habitat or growing areas since we can readily cultivate them on marginal lands.

Algae are also not fussy about location. They can thrive in industrial effluents, animal waste, water, and sewage. When these green leafy plants grow in wastewater, they offer additional benefits of water purification while, at the same time, producing biomass ideal for bioenergy production.

Algae are fast-growing, with some varieties doubling their size in 24 hours. Even more interesting is that you can harvest them daily. Algae are a raw material to watch in the future of biomass energy production.

See Related: How to Start Teaching Sustainability in Schools

7. Forestry Residues

Cut Trees
Picography / Unsplash

We can classify forest biomass feedstock into two broad categories:

  • Forest residues left after timber logging
  • Whole tree biomass harvested exclusively for biomass

The residues may include unmerchantable tree components, culled trees, tops, and limbs. During timber harvest, harvesters leave poorly formed, diseased, dead trees in the woods.

You can collect and use this woody debris in bioenergy. While doing so, you’ll need to be mindful of nature and leave sufficient woody debris behind to provide habitat while maintaining proper hydrologic and nutrient-retaining properties of the debris.

We have great opportunities to exploit the excess biomass on millions of forest acres. By harvesting the excess woody biomass, we’ll help reduce the risk of pests and forest fires and aid in forest resilience, vitality, productivity, and restoration.

But we must be cautious and remember that, as we harvest this biomass for bioenergy, we should not, in any way, negatively impact the stability and health of the forest’s ecological function and structure.

8. Urban Yard and Wood wastes

Urban Yard and Wood wastes
Efraimstochter / Pixabay

Urban yard and wood waste are, in many ways, similar to agricultural residues. Biomass facilities rarely need to buy urban yards and wood wastes, as these wastes are readily available.

Most landfills try to sort waste material by isolating wood waste. We can use this waste and convert it into a biomass project.

Whereas the volume of waste you acquire from landfills might not be sufficient to run your biomass project, you can still use the waste to supplement your other biomass waste sources. This way, you’ll be adding value to your project while, at the same time, helping clear the landfill.

9. Dedicated Energy Crops

Growing crops
Dylan de Jonge / Unsplash

Dedicated energy crops are non-food crops that people grow on marginal land primarily to provide biomass. These crops fall into two broad categories: woody and herbaceous dedicated energy crops.

The short-rotation woody crops are typically fast-growing hardwood trees. They include sycamore, sweet gum, black walnut, green ash, eastern cottonwood, silver maple, hybrid willow, and hybrid poplar. Once planted, these trees take between five and eight years to be ready for harvesting.

On the other hand, the herbaceous dedicated energy crops are perennial grasses. They take two to three years to attain total productivity and are often harvested annually. These plants include wheatgrass, Kochia, tall fescue, sweet sorghum, bamboo, miscanthus, and switchgrass.

Apart from being ideal sources for biomass, many of these dedicated energy crop species can help increase overall farm productivity, diversify sources of income, enhance habitat relative to annual crops, and improve soil and water quality.

10. Agricultural Residues

Agricultural residues on a wheel  barrow
sarangib / Pixabay

We can process a significant volume of biomass fuel using agricultural residues. Some of these agricultural residues we acquire from sugarcane processing and harvesting. The only challenge is that in most areas, these residues are seasonal.

Most agricultural residues, such as wheat straw, corncobs, or rice husks, are only available after each harvest. Finding the residues during other times of the year can be difficult if it isn’t the harvest season.

Using them would mean you’ll have to get alternative biomass waste sources to sustain your biomass project when the residues are off-season. Otherwise, you can create a big biomass project to stockpile many wastes during peak harvest seasons.

See Related: Best Conservation Books to Read

11. Mill residues

Wood Mill Residues
Brian Wangenheim / Unsplash

Mill residues are a better choice economically than forest residues because chipping and collection are already part of mill operations.

A collocated biomass facility can take advantage of mill residues and significantly reduce transportation costs, producing low-cost fuel. We can use these mill residues to generate electricity and steam.

If you have an in-plant biomass facility, you can use mill residues to create steam for drying and processing lumber. In this case, the electricity produced can then be used to lower the plant’s energy consumption. It can sell the plant to a local plant if it achieves excess electricity.

Facts About Biomass

Biogas plant for power generation and energy
ShDrohnenFly / Shutterstock

As we endeavor to use biomass energy to power our way of life, here are some facts about biomass energy that we’d love to share.

Biomass Is Ideal for Electricity and Heating

Biomass produces various fuel forms, such as methane, that can generate electricity to warm our homes. Its potential for heat and electricity generation can enable us to switch from traditional methods, such as liquid fuels.

Biomass Is Ideal for Off-Gas-Grid Locations

In some cases, homes and businesses in rural areas, particularly in developing countries, only have the option to use an oil boiler or oil tank to fulfill their heating needs. However, biomass can provide eco-friendly and viable solutions to them.

In some areas, such as the UK, biomass qualifies for the renewable heat incentive scheme. This typically implies that if your business or home uses biomass, you’re most likely to benefit from the income that the government pays per kWh that your boilers produce.

Through lower energy costs and RHI payments, biomass boilers typically recur all their purchases and set-up costs within four to five years of installation.

There Are Fast-Growing Biomass Grass and Tree Species

We have fast-growing grass and tree species specifically preferred for biomass production. They include grass species, such as alfalfa and switch grass, and tree species, such as eucalyptus and poplar. However, we should ensure we grow these crops rotationally to avoid harming the soil.

You Can Run Your Car on Grass Fuel

Fuel prices are skyrocketing, and finding an alternative to sustain your car on the road would be fulfilling. Isn’t imagining fuelling your car on your lawn mower’s catchment tray contents appealing?

Although the entire process of ethanol preparation may be complicated, we can still produce it from crop sources, including grass, sugarcane, and corn. We can then replace gasoline combustion in our cars with ethanol fuel. We can also use biodiesel, another biofuel from animal fats and vegetable oils, to fuel our vehicles.

See Related: Best Composting Books You Need to Read

Biomass Is Key to a Sustainable Future

New and improved agricultural production and farming methods explicitly designed for biomass crop growth can produce higher crop yields. As a result, the ecosystem and habitat become more protected, and soil erosion is significantly reduced.  

The Power of Poop

Hats off to the first person who thought of the possibility of turning human waste into fuel. Feces are a highly guaranteed and sustainable biomass source. They can never run out for as long as animal and human life is on earth. Biogas produced from human waste and animal manure can generate electricity.

Recycling animal and human waste has great advantages, such as offering a bountiful and highly efficient renewable energy source and reducing landfill pollution.

Increased Efficiency and Cost Minimization

With increased research, technological development, and expertise, the efficiency of biomass energy production is likely to grow immensely. Subsequently, the cost of biomass energy production will be reduced.

Biomass Has a Sustainability Certification

The roundtable on sustainable biofuels has developed a comprehensive testing system to check the sustainability of biofuels in terms of cultural, social, and environmental elements. This global sustainability standard helps monitor biomass’s suitability in renewable energy production.

The Future of Biofuel Is Quite Promising

Aggressive awareness and marketing on the significance of biomass and its ability to power automotive can decrease countries’ costs for oil importation and, in the long run, displace oil importation completely.

Currently, there are a considerable number of bio-fuel-compatible cars on the market. If every country were to embrace the production of biofuels through biomass, the need for fuel from other sources might diminish significantly.

Biomass Is Beneficial for the Soil

Biomass prevents nitrogen runoff from the soil and helps store carbon products in the soil. These carbon products provide an enriched medium for plant growth and are generally essential for soil fertility. Biomass can also reduce the amount of runoff and erosion of soil.

See Related: Important Erosion Pros and Cons You Need to Know

Reasons You Need To Consider Biomass

Cut Woods
HeamnaManzur / Pixabay

There are numerous reasons you need to consider biomass. They include but are not limited to the ones listed below.

Readily Available

Talk of abundance. You’ll readily find biomass materials everywhere. More interesting is that you can also reproduce some of these materials. As long as we regrow crops and trees used for biomass energy production and carry out sustainable biomass production, we’ll never run out of biomass resources.

Additionally, organic waste products, human waste, and animal manure are seemingly in endless supply. BIofuel processors can never run out of raw materials for as long as we replenish crops, trees, animal manure, and human waste.

Carbon Neutral

Although burning biomass produces carbon dioxide, some scholars argue that biomass is carbon neutral. This argument is supported by the fact that the amounts of carbon dioxide these plants use via photosynthesis offset the carbon gas and greenhouse gas emissions from combusting plant-derived biomass.    

Less Waste

Organic wastes used in bioenergy production do not end up in landfills, and keeping stuff out of landfills is always a good thing. Biomass helps offset landfills which have numerous negative impacts, including:

  • Holding excess water vapor, carbon dioxide, and methane
  • Home to scavengers and bugs
  • Producing smoke, stench, and nearby water contamination

If you find the above unfriendly, and we believe you do, you’ll agree that using organic wastes in renewable energy production is much better than holding them in landfills.

See Related: Easy Ways To Reduce Waste at Home

Reliable Electricity Source

Since biomass isn’t likely to run out, your energy-producing biomass power plant can hum merrily for several years. A biopower energy plant typically uses woody biomass to produce electricity. Woody biomass includes sawdust, wood chips, and wood pellets.

Reduced Dependence on Fossil Fuels

Biomass sources are convertible to electricity and fuels; thus, they can help reduce over-dependence on fossil fuels. The global energy system is drifting away from fossils, such as natural gas, oil, and coal, to address climate change. This move calls for new, eco-friendly energy sources to fill the gap.

Although renewable technologies like solar and wind will likely dominate the future energy mix, biomass-powered power generation will also claim its significant share in energy contribution. Biofuels will probably be preferred energy carriers to liquid fuels like petroleum and diesel.

Usable in Many Forms

Power plants can use biomass to create different fuel products from various forms of organic matter. They can also use it to produce biodiesel, methane gas, and other biofuels. Additionally, we can use biomass to generate electricity by using a steam turbine or use it directly as heat.

Related Resources

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