What is Biomass?
Biomass is residue of living plant material. It is frequently material with cellulose available on a recurring basis. Simple examples include crop residue or wood materials. Biomass would include any organic matter including trees, plants and related residues, plant fiber, animal waste, industrial waste, and the paper component of municipal solid waste. Scientifically, cellulose is defined as a polymer, or chain of 6-carbon sugars. Lignin is the substance, or "glue" that holds the cellulose chain together.
How Can Biomass Be Utilized?
Most commonly, biomass can be used as a fuel for combustion. The heat may be used to generate steam, which may be used to meet heating needs or run turbines to generate electricity. The North Dakota Renewable Energy Program has funded research investigating the possibility of co-firing biomass with traditional fuel sources such as lignite. Several methods are currently being developed to utilize biomass in advanced forms of biofuels, such as cellulosic ethanol.
What are the Challenges?
Biomass, such as crop residue, is typically bulky in their original form, and cost effective transportation from the field to a processing center can be an issue. Another issue facing ag residues lies in the nutrients. It is important to leave enough residue on the field so that nutrients, such as nitrogen, are returned to the soil. Research funded by the North Dakota Renewable Energy Program is being done to address these challenges.
Bioenergy provides economic, environmental, and security benefits. The use of renewable biomass energy can create additional revenue streams for North Dakota farmers and other industries. In the process it reduces waste streams. Significant savings are attributable to reducing landfill expenses by alternatively disposing of volume waste.
Additionally, the utilization of biomass for bioenergy also reduces emissions of greenhouse gasses and other pollutants by reducing fossil fuel use. By drawing on more diverse domestic energy sources, we ensure reliability, since bioenergy can reduce dependence on imported energy. This ensures a greater level of energy security.
Want to Learn More About Bioenergy?
The Energy Independence, Bioenergy Generation and Environmental Sustainability online Training Center has been designed to provide educational training resources focused not only on the technical feasibility of bioenergy generation, but also on approaches and processes that assist communities in understanding the comprehensive implications of bio-based alternative energy. Click here to visit the Bioenergy Training Center.