Of all the renewable energy sources in use today, biomass is by far the most versatile. There are several different uses of biomass energy. This makes it suitable for lots of industries all over the world.
In this article, we’ll take a look at how biomass is used around the world and what makes it such a versatile renewable energy source.
What Is Biomass Used For?
There are three main uses of biomass. We can use it to generate electricity, produce biofuels, and produce biogas. We will now explore each of these uses in greater detail.
1. For Generating Electricity
One of the main uses of biomass is to generate power. This involves the burning of organic matter at a biomass power plant. As organic matter combusts it produces heat. We can then transfer this heat to water so that it boils. As the water boils, it creates steam. We can then use this to drive a turbine and generate electricity.
The way biomass power plants work is very similar to that of traditional coal, oil, and gas-fired power plants. Some power companies have been able to convert their power plants to burn biomass instead of fossil fuels.
There are many different types of biomass, but generally speaking, wood is mostly used for generating biomass power. This mostly comes from tree crops such as Willow and Poplar, but can also come from wood chips, tree bark, logs, and other sources of wood.
We can also use biogas to produce electricity. This uses a similar approach to the above but involves the burning of gas instead of organic matter. Our section on biogas covers this in greater detail.
2. For Producing Biofuels
Another use of biomass is for producing biofuels. Here, we can use food crops and animal fats to create bioethanol and biodiesel. Bioethanol is a suitable replacement for gasoline, and biodiesel a suitable replacement for diesel fuel.
Biofuels can be used in transportation but do require a compatible engine. Never attempt to put bioethanol or biodiesel in engines that do not support these fuels as you will damage the engine.
Of all the biofuels, bioethanol is the most popular. This is because it is more cost-effective to produce than biodiesel. It is an alcohol fuel we can produce from starchy food crops. The most common crops used for bioethanol are; wheat, corn, sugarcane, and potatoes.
Biodiesel is less cost-effective than bioethanol because of the land mass it requires. It is mostly produced from a mixture of animal fats and vegetable oils. The land mass that these sources use is far more than that of the crops that we can use to make bioethanol.
3. For Producing Biogas
The third main use of biomass energy is for creating biogas. This is mostly produced inside an anaerobic digester. Here, we place organic matter inside an air-tight chamber. We can then heat it to speed up decomposition which produces methane; a combustible gas. We can then extract the methane and store it for later use.
Biogas itself can be used in different ways. Let’s now take a look at these different uses.
Biogas Use In Heating & Cooking
Biogas is a popular choice when it comes to heating and cooking. We can use it as a direct replacement for natural gas canisters. There are also many biogas stoves that have made their way onto the market over recent years.
You can even use biogas to heat water for your home. Some owners of recreational vehicles have also been able to use biogas to help heat their water.
Biogas Use In Transportation
Some companies have been able to clean biogas to remove impurities from it. When this happens, it becomes what’s known as biomethane; a purified form of biogas.
Some fuel companies compress biomethane to form a replacement for Compressed Natural Gas (CNG). They can also liquify it to form Liquified Natural Gas (LNG). We can then use these fuels in vehicles designed to run on either CNG or LNG.
Biogas Use In Power Generation
The last primary use of biogas is to generate electricity. This is very similar to the process we explained in the section on biomass power but instead uses biogas as a fuel source. This makes it very similar to a gas-fired power station where natural gas is burnt to heat water.
We can see from the above usage examples that biomass energy is a very versatile renewable energy source. We can use it for everything from power generation through to heating, cooking, and even as an alternative fuel in transportation.
Of all the different uses of biomass energy, biogas is the most versatile. We can use it to achieve the same outcomes as biomass power and biofuels.