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How Sustainable is Biomass Fuel?

Posted on Thu 19th Jan, 2017 in: Biomass Fuel

What is biomass fuel?

Biomass fuel is a renewable energy source in the form of organic residues and wastes from natural, biological materials. Biomass fuels have a low energy density in comparison to fossil fuels and are used to create energy for electricity as well as alternative forms of power.

Biomass fuels are of interest due to their ability to save vast amount of money, thanks to their renewable nature, as opposed to the traditional fuels used in most homes, whose prices are continually rising with (and often more than) inflation. Some materials which can be included in biomass fuels are crops, animal manure, lumber industry scraps, woodland remains and some other types of waste residues.

Environmental Issues

Biomass is said to be carbon neutral, which means the amount of carbon dioxide released during the burning of this fuel is the same amount that a plant can absorb during photosynthesis. When biomass fuel is burned, there is no additional carbon footprint and therefore it is less harsh on the environment.

This is in stark contrast to fossil fuels which release more carbon dioxide when burning that is liable to disrupt the levels of CO2 in the atmosphere because the carbon has been stored for extended periods of time as opposed to the recently living organic composition of biomass fuel.

Sustainability / Renewability

There is a continuous supply of waste from various sources such as the paper, construction and wood industries, municipal solid waste (everyday items of household rubbish) and green energy production, thus biomass fuel is almost indefinitely sustainable. Waste residue will always be produced as a by-product of numerous industries. Crops and trees are replanted after harvesting and there will be a never-ending supply of residual natural materials from these sources. Biomass fuel is able to provide continuous energy, and consequently, there are no breaks in power or problems with intermittency like there are with wind turbines or solar energy solutions. It is also adjustable per varying demand.

Wood Biomass Fuel

Wood biomass fuel is the most common type of biomass and is sold in various forms including, logs, sawdust, wood chips and wood pellets, with the latter being the most popular and simple to use for the purposes of producing energy via biomass fuel. They are most commonly made from sawdust or alternative by-products of the wood industry. The production of the pellets does use more energy than some other types of wood fuel and some of their own fuel potential is used up in the production process, however they are in fact more energy dense once processed (using dry sawdust) than chips or briquettes, and therefore more energy is available ton for ton.

As the use of biomass fuel becomes increasingly common, particularly in domestic use, one large commercial entity, Drax Group plc which supplies 7% of the UK’s energy, has adopted the use of wood pellets for the provision of renewable energy. Being a predominantly biomass-fuelled generator, with 70% of the renewable energy they produce being wood pellet biomass fuel and not coal as it was in the past, they are playing a crucial role in the way in which renewable energy is generated, supplied and consumed for the benefit of the environment, decreasing the carbon footprint and diminishing the reliance on fossil fuels and other environmentally unfriendly, unsustainable energy sources.

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