What is Biomass

Industries operate by using biomass.

As we read and learn about conservation and alternative fuel, we may be faced with the question: what is biomass? The word biomass comes up in green sustainable magazines, but is it fully understood? After reading this article, you will have the answer to what biomass is all about.

Defining Biomass

Biomass can be defined as:

  • Living and recently dead biological matter that can be converted to use as a source of fuel, such as biofuel.
  • Plant and animal material which is used for producing fibers, heat or chemicals.
  • Biodegradable wastes that can be burnt as fuel.

Biomass is not:

  • Organic matter which has been changed by geological transformation into materials such as petroleum or coal.

Basically, biomass is reusable and renewable energy.

Biomass Resources

Domestic biomass resources include:

  • Agricultural residues
  • Forestry residues
  • Crops grown on the land and in the water for the purposes of being used for energy
  • Municipal solid wastes
  • Industrial wastes

Agricultural and Forestry Residues

Around lumber mills and paper mills waste or what is often thought of as garbage is lying around. These waste products are usually taken to landfills which are overflowing. However, now with alternative methods of conservation, this waste can be used to produce the following:

  • Heat and steam
  • Electricity and power
  • Compost material to spread on plants so that they can grow (a type of fertilizer)

Crops Used for Biofuels


Biofuels are any fuel derived from biomass. Soybeans and corn are the two crops grown for the purpose of converting them into biofuels. Environmentalists are working on improving the conversion of non-grain crops to biofuel. Through a thermo-chemical process, ethanol, methanol, biodiesel, biocrude and methane are produced. Some of the crops used include:

  • Corn stover (stalks left over after harvest)
  • Grain straw
  • Switchgrass
  • Fast-growing tree varieties, such as poplar and willow

Types of Biofuel

Two main types of biofuel are ethanol and biodiesel.


Ethanol can be blended with gasoline so that not as much petroleum is needed to run a vehicle. This reduces air pollution as well as cutting down on the need for gasoline.

Most of today's vehicles can run on blends of E10. This blend consists of 10 percent ethanol and 90 percent gasoline. E10 is the most common low-concentration mixture.

Ethanol can also be blended with gasoline to create E85 which is a blend of 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline. Since it burns cleanly, ethanol is the highest octane-producing fuel available.


Biodiesel is a clean burning fuel produced from domestic, renewable resources such as new and used vegetable oils (largely from soybean) and animal fats.


Biopower, or biomass power, is the use of biomass to generate heat, electricity, and steam in refineries. The system works when biomass feedstocks burn to produce steam. The steam drives the turbine which turns a generator that converts the power into electricity. In some refineries, the steam that rises from the power plant is also used to heat buildings. This entire process is energy efficient making industries like paper mills more green.

Reducing Global Warming

Using biomass can help reduce global warming. How is this done? Growing plants use and store carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide, or CO2, is stored in the plant and then released when the plant material is burned or decays. By replanting the crops, the new plants can use the CO2 produced by the burned plants. Therefore, biomass and replanting helps close the carbon dioxide cycle. If crops are not replanted, then biomass can produce carbon dioxide. This will contribute toward global warming.

What is Biomass Going to Be in the Future?

Biomass is growing in popularity. Already it can be used to produce a number of common products based on the plant material chosen. In the future we will be sure to see more products created from biomass such as detergents, plastics, polymers, carpets, fabrics and lubricants.

Every year, The National Renewable Energy Laboratory or NREL, is working to develop inexpensive and earth friendly biomass conversion technologies. They want to continue to decrease the US's dependence on foreign fuel. Their other goals include:

  • Improving the air quality
  • Support rural economies and farmers

What is biomass going to be in the future? Surely, a well-known and widely-used effective fuel alternative..

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