Biomass is both Man’s Oldest Renewable Energy
Man started to use biomass for energy on the day that our ancestors discovered fire, and used it for cooking. Biomass is actually just another word for biological-mass. Biomass is anything that has been grown or has lived, except for fossil fuels (coal, oil, natural gas etc). Fossil fuels were of course created by the decay of living clean energy sources organisms many millennia ago in pre-history and are biomass in that sense, but these are not included within the term ‘biomass’ as used by renewable energy experts.
Biomass takes many forms, some of the most well known are wood, straw, biowaste, wood chip, waste paper, organic slurries from the processing of foodstuffs, livestock farming, sewage treatment, chicken litter etc. I guess that most of us can think of a hundred or more examples of biomass with a little thought, and they can all be burnt, or fermented and digested to provide energy. They all contain energy from the sun, which was bound up into their carbon chemistry while they were alive, and that energy can be released for man’s use without increasing the net additional carbon dioxide (greenhouse gas) burden on our planet, as long as we continually replant, breed and re-grow replacement biomass sources in place of those we use.
So biomass can also be grown as a crop for use as fuel. If the biomass is to be grown it will need to be selected to be of high calorific value (give of lots of heat when burnt), grow fast, need little fertilizing or watering, require low power requirements during growing and be cheaply harvested. However, the growing of biomass to use as biofuel on a large scale would have the effect of reducing available land for food crops. This could be a bad thing for the poor, if the cost of food rose.
So where can we find sustainable renewable biomass without taking up good food producing farmland?
Well, as we hinted earlier there is a huge, largely untapped source of biomass, in the waste produced by modern society. Why not use that? (Some purists would say that some waste – like plastics is made from fossil fuel (oil) sources. I would respond that these should, in principle, be removed from the biomass before use, and recycled.)
Biomass can also be separated at source by the public by the rapidly increasing number of councils which provide a separate collection for biowaste, including food waste which is the highest heat producing waste of them all when burnt or digested, and these days comprises between 15% and 25% of all household (domestic) waste by weight. Western societies do throw away an awful lot of food, and in many nations the amount of food discarded is continuing to rise, although overall tonnages of waste created year by year by the public have nearly stabilised.
So society must now rediscover biomass as a significant energy source. We think that we have progressed far away from the simple log fire, which used biomass. In truth we have not. By using fossil fuels in massive quantities, we have simply been raiding the bank, we have been stealing oxygen from the earth’s atmosphere and replacing the oxygen with the greenhouse gas, and global warming gas, carbon dioxide.
We simply cannot go on doing this without reaping climate change disaster on the earth.
We can change our ways. It is possible, but we need thoughtful people like you. People who