Biomass energy is energy from the sun captured in organic materials derived from plants or animals. Sources of biomass include:
• Forestry residues (green waste from landfills, sawmill waste, other vegetative and wood waste)
• Agricultural crops grown for energy purposes and other agricultural waste
• Woody construction and debris waste
• Animal waste
• Ethanol waste
• Municipal solid waste (sewage sludge or other landfill organics)
• Landfill gas
• Other industrial waste (i.e. paper sludge from paper recycling processes)
Biomass power generation facilities harness the energy stored in such organic materials to produce clean, renewable power. Biomass power plants use this material for fuel, burning it under controlled, low emissions conditions to generate electricity. Biomass energy can be generated by gasification, pyrolysis, anaerobic digestion or direct combustion (100% biomass combustion or co-firing with coal at existing coal plants).
In addition to diverting waste from already over-burdened landfills, biomass facilities are also valued for their negative greenhouse gas footprint as they displace more potent greenhouse gas emissions of methane that would otherwise result from the decomposition and decaying of organic materials that occurs as a result of landfill accumulation, forest accumulation or composting. Emissions of methane create 20 times more greenhouse gas effect than the CO2 produced during combustion.
Biomass to electrical power facilities are also considered to be carbon neutral as CO2 emissions generated by combustion is generally offset by the CO2 emissions consumed during the lifecycle of plant material. By comparison, the CO2 emissions released from the combustion of fossil fuels (such as coal, oil and natural gas) add to the imbalance of carbon emissions in our atmosphere, which contributes to global warming. Furthermore, today’s biomass facilities are outfitted with state-of-the-art pollution control equipment to reduce other air pollutants such as particulate matter and nitrogen oxides (“NOx”) that would otherwise result from the open burning of biomass or from forest fires.
The Biomass segment of the renewable energy industry has generated increased interest since 2005 as the result of:
1. Scientific breakthroughs in how to make the energy conversion process more efficient.
2. State and federal government mandates for increased energy sustainability. Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS) are now in place in 25 states plus the District of Columbia, requiring utilities to purchase up to 25% of their electricity from renewable sources within the next 2 - 18 years. Three additional states have set voluntary goals for increased adoption of renewable energy.
3. The U.S. Department of Agriculture issuing grants and loan guarantees to forward-thinking ventures that are leading the charge to propel renewable, biomass energy generation into the mainstream.