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The Pros and Cons of Biomass Energy: Everything You Need to Know

Biomass energy is a type of renewable energy that comes from organic materials like wood, crops, and manure.

Biogas , Biomass energy plant , Germany
Biomass energy plant, Germany

It is considered to be a carbon-neutral form of energy because the amount of carbon dioxide released when it is burned is equal to the amount absorbed by the plants while they were growing.

There is a lot of debate surrounding biomass energy. Some people swear by its benefits, while others think it’s not worth the hassle.

Since biomass energy is a relatively new technology, there isn’t a lot of data to support either side. However, we will do our best to provide you with an unbiased look at the pros and cons of biomass energy.

The advantages of biomass energy

Renewable

Biomass energy is a renewable source of energy because the organic materials it comes from can be replenished through natural processes. For example, wood can be regrown, and manure will continue to be produced as long as there are animals.

A lot of people confuse biomass energy with fossil fuels like coal and oil. The main difference is that fossil fuels are non-renewable because they come from materials that took millions of years to form, and we can’t create more of them.

Carbon neutral

Biomass is carbon-neutral because the carbon dioxide released when it is burned is offset by the carbon dioxide absorbed by the plants during photosynthesis.

This is in contrast to fossil fuels, which release carbon dioxide that has been trapped underground for millions of years. This excess carbon dioxide is one of the main drivers of climate change.

Although both biomass and fossil fuels release carbon dioxide when burned, the carbon dioxide from biomass is considered to be “neutral” because it doesn’t add any new carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. The released carbon dioxide is typically absorbed by plants relatively quickly.

Available everywhere in the world

Although fossil fuels are available almost everywhere in the world, it is only economically feasible to extract them in certain areas.

On the other hand, biomass energy can be sourced from almost anywhere. Since it comes from organic materials, it is not much dependent on geographical location.

Reduces reliance on fossil fuels

We still rely heavily on fossil fuels like coal and oil to meet our energy needs. However, using biomass energy can help to reduce our reliance on these non-renewable sources of energy.

Supports the economy & Creates more jobs

The production and use of biomass energy can support the economy in a couple of ways. First, the production of biomass energy can create jobs in the agriculture, forestry, and waste management sectors. This can be especially beneficial in rural areas where these industries are a major part of the economy.

Second, using biomass energy increases the demand for agricultural and forestry products. This can help to support the prices of these commodities, which benefits the farmers and foresters who produce them.

More affordable than fossil fuels

The price of biomass energy depends on the cost of the feedstock. However, it is generally more affordable than fossil fuels. The main reason for this is that the cost of fossil fuels heavily relies on the expensive extraction and transportation processes.

Aside from that, the number of available reserves, political circumstances where they are extracted, and worldwide market patterns all influence the price of fossil fuels. Therefore, the price of fossil fuels is less likely to stay stable in the long term.

Less garbage in landfills

One of the advantages of biomass energy is that it can help to reduce the amount of garbage in landfills.

This is because organic materials like food waste and manure can be used as biomass instead of being sent to a landfill where they would release methane, a potent greenhouse gas.

By burning solid waste, a landfill’s capacity can be increased by 60 – 90%. This not also lowers the cost of disposal but also the quantity of land needed for a landfill.

The drawbacks of biomass energy

High initial investment costs

One of the main disadvantages of biomass energy is the high initial investment costs. These costs can include the cost of land, equipment, and infrastructure. Modern biomass power plants are much more than combustion chambers.

They may involve dedicated processes that allow for the efficient use of the fuel and the capture of emissions. All of these factors can add to the cost of setting up a biomass power plant.

Another challenge is that many biomass power plants are typically located in rural areas. This means that the infrastructure needed to transport the biomass feedstock to the power plant can be expensive. This can make it difficult to justify the high investment costs if there is not a guaranteed demand for the generated energy.

Not as efficient as fossil fuels

The efficiency of biomass energy production is often lower than that of fossil fuels. Some biofuels, such as ethanol, are inefficient when compared to gasoline. Since fossil fuels developed over millions of years under high pressure and temperature, they have a higher energy density.

This means that more energy can be extracted from a smaller amount of fossil fuels than biomass. So even though biomass is more renewable, fossil fuels are still more energy-dense and efficient.

That is why it is a common practice to use fossil fuels in conjunction with biomass to increase the overall efficiency.

Not completely clean

Biomass is carbon-neutral, but the utilization of biomass is not completely clean.

The combustion of biomass emits carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and other pollutants into the atmosphere. These emissions can contribute to climate change and air pollution.

While biomass power plants are typically less polluting than coal-fired power plants, they are still a significant source of air pollution.

This is why it is important to consider the location of biomass power plants. They should be located in areas where there the emissions can be easily controlled.

Can lead to deforestation

Another drawback of biomass energy is that it can lead to deforestation and loss of habitat.

Because it takes a lot of wood and other waste items to generate the power needed to meet the needs of the biomass energy industry. Deforestation is a possibility in the future, even though there is already abundant wood waste.

Biomass planting takes space

Biomass planting takes space that could be used for other purposes, such as food production or housing. The land set aside for biomass crops is also often managed intensively, which can lead to soil erosion and water pollution.

In addition, it often competes with food crops for land and water resources. This can lead to higher food prices and less food security.

Not all biomass conversion technologies created equal

Biomass energy can be tapped as easily as burning garbage in an incinerator. However, that is not the most efficient way to produce biomass energy. That is also a very dirty way to produce energy and it releases a lot of harmful pollutants into the atmosphere.

The better biomass conversion technologies are those that use thermal depolymerization or gasification. These technologies are able to convert biomass into energy with fewer emissions than incineration.

Therefore, when making the decision to utilize biomass energy, it is important to consider the type of technology that will be used to convert biomass into energy.