What Is Biomass Energy?

Since the 1970s, with the rise in prices of traditional energy sources, coupled with environmental pressures and the impact of global climate change, biomass energy has gradually gained attention worldwide. Due to its ability to effectively substitute gasoline and diesel produced from petroleum, biomass energy has become a crucial direction for the development and utilization of renewable energy. Biomass is the fourth largest energy source, following coal, oil, and natural gas. Recognized globally as a zero-carbon renewable energy source, its development plays a significant role in meeting the energy needs of the continuously growing global population of 8 billion and in controlling the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.

Definition of Biomass Energy

The term biomass energy, in a broad sense, refers to the energy stored in biomass in the form of chemical energy derived from solar energy, namely, energy carried by biomass. It directly or indirectly originates from the photosynthesis of green plants and can be converted into conventional solid, liquid, and gaseous fuels. Being an endless and sustainable resource, it is a renewable energy source and also the only renewable carbon source.

Approximately 173 billion tons of biomass are produced annually on Earth through the process of photosynthesis in plants. The energy contained in this biomass is equivalent to 10-20 times the total global energy consumption. However, only less than 3% of this energy is utilized by human society.

In a narrower sense, biomass energy refers to the energy derived from the conversion of natural plants, animal manure, and organic waste from urban and rural areas. Based on different sources, biomass suitable for energy use can be categorized into six main types: forestry residues, agricultural residues, domestic sewage, industrial organic waste, municipal solid waste, and livestock and poultry manure.

biomass energy source

Among all renewable energy sources, biomass energy is unique in its ability to be converted into liquid raw materials. Other energy sources only provide intangible electrical and thermal energy, while biomass can provide tangible products. These products not only serve as fuels but also act as raw materials in the chemical industry. Solar energy, wind energy, hydropower, nuclear energy, and other sources can be used for electricity generation and heating, but they cannot be used to manufacture the daily chemical products we use. Therefore, in an era of dwindling coal and oil resources, what people lack more is the ability to produce many materials through chemical products. This is where the importance of biomass energy is evident.

Characteristics of Biomass Energy

Renewability:

Biomass energy, generated through the process of photosynthesis in plants, falls under the category of renewable energy sources, similar to wind and solar energy. It is widely distributed, has abundant reserves, and ensures the sustainable utilization of energy.

Low Pollution:

Biomass has low sulfur and nitrogen content, resulting in fewer emissions of SOx and NOx during combustion. When used as a fuel, the carbon dioxide emitted is approximately equal to the amount it absorbed during growth. This characteristic makes the net carbon dioxide emissions to the atmosphere nearly zero, effectively mitigating the greenhouse effect.

Abundant Supply:

Biomass energy is the world’s fourth-largest energy source, following coal, oil, and natural gas. According to estimates by biologists, the Earth’s land produces approximately 1,000 to 1,250 billion tons of biomass annually, while the oceans produce 500 billion tons. The annual production of biomass energy far exceeds the total global energy demand.

Forms of Biomass Energy

Biomass energy can be categorized into different forms based on the product type, such as gas fuels, liquid fuels, solid fuels, and biomass power generation. The selection of the energy conversion form depends on the characteristics of the raw materials and the energy consumption requirements.

biomass pellets

Biomass Gas:

This refers to combustible gas produced from biomass through anaerobic fermentation or thermochemical conversion. The gas, primarily composed of methane and carbon dioxide, undergoes purification and refinement or further conversion to obtain combustible gases.

Biomass Liquid Fuels:

These are liquid fuels produced from biomass resources using physical, chemical, and biological techniques. Liquid fuels are a major form of biomass energy utilization, and the products include fuel ethanol/butanol, biodiesel, biomass pyrolysis oil, and synthetic fuels.

Biomass Pellet Fuel:

Compressed from loose agricultural and forestry waste such as straw, branches, and sawdust, biomass pellet fuel has an energy density equivalent to medium-quality bituminous coal. Compared to biomass gas or liquid fuels, it is the most efficient form of energy conversion. Biomass pellet fuel can be used for household heating and as an industrial fuel for power plants, kilns, and other applications.

Biomass Power Generation:

This technology involves burning biomass or converting it into combustible gases for power generation. It is currently the most mature technology and the largest-scale material utilization technique. From a technical perspective, biomass power generation mainly includes direct biomass combustion power generation, co-firing of biomass and coal for power generation, and biomass gasification power generation.

Currently, biomass energy is applied in various fields such as industry, agriculture, transportation, and daily life through methods like power generation, heating, and gas supply. It is irreplaceable by other renewable energy sources.

Conclusion

The development and utilization of biomass energy not only enable the harmless, reduction, and resourceful utilization of various organic waste, thereby improving the ecological environment, but also contribute to optimizing the energy structure and achieving synergy with carbon peaking, carbon neutrality, and environmental pollution control.

carbon cycle

In the utilization process of biomass energy as a zero-carbon source, enhancing carbon capture and storage can create negative carbon emissions by collecting generated CO2, providing a potential avenue for environmental restoration.

In the future, biomass energy will make significant contributions to the sustainable development of human society in various fields. It not only promotes the development of large-scale agriculture but also plays a positive role in addressing challenges such as climate change, energy shortages, and environmental pollution. As the policy environment for the development of the biomass energy industry improves and technological advancements continue, diversified development and utilization of biomass energy may usher in new opportunities for vigorous growth.

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