Pros and cons of biomass energy

Scientist working on biomass

Energy made from plants and animals is called biomass energy. It is usually used in industries; however, we can use it too! Wood and forest wastage is also used to make energy in this manner.

Burned plants release CO2 which has been clarified as a renewable energy source as photosynthesis cycles the CO2 to the new plants. In many cases it can even lead to the CO2 being negative because large portions of CO2 are moved into the soil during every cycle. We should however do this in a controlled and sustainable manner.

Biomass energy has been known to be widely used in history, for example, burning fuel wood to generate energy. Even in 2020, the only source of fuel in certain parts of developing countries is biomass, especially in villages and off-grid homes.

Advantages of Biomass Energy

1. Renewable

The availability of biomass sources such as garbage and dead plants is never-ending as compared to the fossil fuels which are limited in the world. An alternate form of energy to fossil fuels that can replenish its self is considered renewable. However, It does take time to renew the resources of biomass such as plants, trees and other organic matter in the world and we should always be cautious not to overuse biomass energy in an unsustainable manner.

2. Reduced dependence on fossil fuels

The dependency on fossil fuels decreases as biomass sources can be converted to bio-fuels for use. Biomass energy has the potential to alter the world’s energy balance as it is quite abundant.

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3. Stable Economy

Since countries that do not have adequate fossil fuel resources have to rely on importing them; this badly impacts their economy leading to rapid fluctuations at times of high demand. Therefore, using biomass energy in a sustainable manner could be the answer to stabilizing their country’s economy.

4. Carbon neutral / No carbon footprint

This would be classified as one of the most important advantages of biomass energy. As we all know that the process of photosynthesis involves plants absorbing the carbon in the atmosphere (CO2) and storing it in plants; that process is actually reversed when we harness biomass energy by burning that organic matter and releasing carbon (in the form of CO2).

The carbon when released in the atmosphere by burning is absorbed back by the new plants which completes the cycle and balances the carbon emissions.

5. Waste Reduction

Energy can be created by biomass materials which will help in managing waste. Many countries are facing problems with accommodating waste because there’s only so much land for landfills. If biomass energy power plants are increased within the country, it would reduce the dumping of waste in landfills.

6. Waste Reduction

Energy can be created by biomass materials which will help in managing waste. Many countries are facing problems with accommodating waste because there’s only so much land for landfills. If biomass energy power plants are increased within the country, it would reduce the dumping of waste in landfills.

It will not only help the country but help the environment positively as well.

7. Abundant availability

It is expected that biomass energy would have a huge potential as the supply of biomass sources is abundant.

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As the production and consumption levels of organic food are increasing throughout the world due to increasing populations; more waste is being produced. Not just any waste but animals and plants waste as well. This would benefit the biomass energy reserves even further.

8. Can be used as fuel in cars

Biomass energy can be used to fuel cars too! The biomass just needs to be processed to make Biofuels. Biofuels include Biodiesel (made from vegetable oil) and Ethanol (through the process of fermentation).

Ethanol is now a part of almost all of petroleum gas sold in the US by at least 10% (hence known as E10). There are many vehicles that can run on higher ethanol concentrations as well and those are known as flexible-fuel vehicles. Although, vehicles made after 2007 have the ability to tolerate ethanol concentration up to 15%!

Biodiesel has one major advantage that it can be utilized in the usual diesel engines without the need of changing engines. Pure bio-diesel is emission-free and completely biodegradable.

Disadvantages of Biomass Energy

1. Carbon Storage

Carbon is an element which is in the biomass. At the time of combustion of biomass, carbon dioxide is released. When this carbon is recaptured by plants through photosynthesis; the kind of carbon compounds formed is variable depending upon the type of biomass (because the same carbon might end up in animals, forming different compounds) which may have different energy potentials.

2. Environmental Damage

The fuel which is produced by biomass energy releases many gases including carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds. They all contribute to the air pollution that is caused in our ecosystem.

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In many cases, biomass energy has been found to release more byproducts and pollutants into the environment when compared with the gases released by other traditional fuel sources.

The making of biomass from clearing of forests has been criticized a lot as this create harmful gases which impact the environment and the climate.

3. Expensive

When comparing with traditional forms of power generation, biomass energy has higher construction and operating costs which makes biomass energy production expensive.

They need to have huge storage facilities which require space. The harnessing of energy from biomass has many processes; this may impact efficiency of energy production.

The extraction of the biomass materials can also be highly expensive as they need a vast variety of resources.

Another thing is that harnessing energy from biomass on a large scale is relatively new. Hence, the technology of harnessing biomass energy may still be in its infancy. It is only through major breakthroughs like we had in the history of solar would we be able to harness biomass energy on a large-scale basis with lower costs.

4. It relies heavily on natural resources

A very large amount of natural resources are used to produce power. For example, wood is a major source of biomass energy. For the biomass energy to be produced at large scale; more wood is used in large scale production. Increased demand for wood will lead to deforestation which would lead to habitat loss and destruction of many plants and animals.

Conclusion regarding Biomass Energy

Many researchers are advancing towards creating biomass energy without hurting nature and less costly. They are also working on ways of producing biomass energy efficiently and effectively exactly like other alternative energy sources. However, there are certain few pros and cons that will be present no matter how efficient the process may be. 

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