26 Ultimate Biomass Energy Pros And Cons

Check Out Every Advantages and Disadvantages of Biomass Energy

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Biomass energy comes from organic material like wood, crop waste, and a large portion of the garbage that is sitting in our landfills. Even our wastewater can get placed in what is called a biodigester where the process of Anaerobic Digestion allows us to collect biogas from it.

Biomass even makes up as much as 4.8 percent of the U.S overall energy consumption[1].

Biomass products have multiple uses. From getting burned to provide us with direct heat to producing electricity and even getting turned into a fuel source for use in our transportation industry.

Currently, we are using four different types of biomass.

1. wood and agricultural products
2. solid waste
3. landfill gas and biogas
4. Alcohol Fuels (like Ethanol or Biodiesel).

But like every energy source, it has both its advantages and drawbacks associated from using it.

I have checked all over to compile this list. So keep reading and check out every advantage and disadvantage that results from us using biomass energy.

Summary of Pros And Cons From Biomass

  • Benefits of Biomass Energy

  • 1. Renewable
  • 2. Highly Available
  • 3. Considered Carbon Neutral
  • 4. Reliable
  • 5. Promotes National Security of Energy
  • 6. Sewage Waste Reduction
  • 7. Farming Waste Reduction
  • 8. Biomass/Biogases Leftovers An Organic Fertilizer
  • 9. Multiple Uses
  • 10. Landfill Waste Reduction
  • 11. Reduce Farmers Dependence on Fossil Fuels
  • 12. Biomass Creation On Mass Scale Possible
  • Drawbacks of Biomass Energy

  • 1. Releases Greenhouse Gases
  • 2. Costs
  • 3. Seasonality
  • 4. Health Groups Are Now SSpeaking Against Burning Biomass
  • 5. Can Cause Forest Clear-Cutting
  • 6. Commercial Biomass Power Plant Size
  • 7. Inefficient at Electricity Generation
  • 8. Scalability
  • 9. Can Cause Reduction to Soil Health
  • 10. Questionable Efficiency at Capturing Carbon
  • 11. Could Effect Certain Crop Prices
  • 12. Renewable But An Exhaustible Energy Sources
  • 13. Few Technological Advancements
  • 14. Biogas Production Reliant on Temperature

Advantages of Biomass Energy

1. Renewable

Plants like hemp, corn, and straw can all get used for biomass power creation. These crops can get regrown the following year again. Since farmers can renew their biomass crops in a short time, biomass gets labeled as a renewable resource.

Another option which I think would be better is to replace our corn crops used for biomass with algae as there fuel source instead. Apparently, we could get 10 to 60 times more biomass by using them. Unlike corn or hemp algae can reproduce so quickly they can double their numbers(and mass) within a few hours when grown under the proper conditions.

2. Highly Available

All over the world, there are vast amounts of biomass available.

From using sewage waste to collecting biodegradable garbage, there is biomass waste everywhere just waiting to get received.

Even cultures that focus on sustainable living will end up creating different waste products. From there crops, to ground use, and other necessary tasks of their society[13].

3. Considered Carbon Neutral

Many people think this is one of the most important benefits of using biomass as an energy source.

Because the carbon released from biomass gets reclaimed by the next crop, biomass energy has been labeled as a carbon-neutral energy source.

4. Reliable

A few sites I found have stated that biomass is reliable because of the plant material and animal matter used are always available. And since we have a constant supply of content, we could use it to supply us with continual energy.

We can either burn the biomass matter to turn water to steam for spinning turbines to generate electricity. Or the material can get used as a constant supply for creating biogas in a digester.

5. Promotes National Security of Energy

By using biomass as an energy source, we can displace the heavy use of fossil fuels. Replacing reliance on fossil fuels can help countries reduce their dependence on foreign fuel markets.

Many places are slowly replacing oil for the electrical transportation system. Biomass energy can help us meet the needed electricity required for these services.

The less any country needs to depend on other foreign sources of energy is for their best interest.

6. Sewage Waste Reduction

One of the processes we use to treat our wastewaters is with Anaerobic digestion. We can collect biogas from the water sewage by using this system. It also helps us to reduce the level of chemicals needed to treat the water in the second stage of wastewater cleaning(aerobic digestion).

7. Farming Waste Reduction

Just like with sewage waters. The agriculture Waste can get treated with gasification to supply biogas and even electricity.

Many farms can use these systems to help them power different types of used equipment.

The leftover biomass also doubles as a natural fertilizer that can help crops get the nutrients they require.

8. Biomass/Biogases Leftovers An Organic Fertilizer

After biogas gets collected from a source of biomass. The leftover biomaterial is an enriched organic matter(called digestate).

The digestate can make a great supplement to and sometimes can even entirely replace chemical fertilizers. Since this form of fertilizer is just natural organic material. So they do not usually cause the same soil toxicity problems that the synthetic versions do.

9. Multiple Uses

Many homes use biogas to provide heating and cooking.

We can refine the biomass to create biodiesel and ethanol.

Or we can burn it to spin turbines to generate electricity for us.

10. Landfill Waste Reduction

By using Anaerobic digesters for our waste, it can help to reduce the amount of garbage just sitting in our landfills.

Having the trash in Anaerobic digesters also deactivates pathogens and parasites helping to reduce possible incidents of waterborne diseases[8].

Being in a contained environment could also help us to capture greenhouse emissions like methane better.

11. Reduce Farmers Dependence on Fossil Fuels

Many farms have installed Anaerobic digester systems.

Biogas can get collected to create biogas and biodiesel. Or it could get used to generate additional electricity for the farm.

The less outside power a farm needs can also lower how dependent they are on fossil fuels.

12. Mass Biomass Creation is Possible

While using items like trees and crops have seasonal elements. Organic material, specifically Algae, can reproduce at an astonishing rate.

Using fast-growing organisms like algae would allow us to produce a massive amount of biomass matter in a short time. But the cost of these facilities in colder climates may not make them economically viable[13].

Other sources like water sewage and organic garbage waste could help to provide a continuous stream of material for creating biomass energy.

Disadvantages of Biomass Energy

1. Greenhouse Gases

Like burning coal when biomass gets heated, it will release the greenhouse gas CO2 into our atmosphere. When compared to coal for electricity generation, biomass can end up emitting up to 150 percent more CO2 per megawatt of electricity generated[9].

When a biomass boiler got compared to a natural gas one at the Domtar paper mill, the biomass boiler was emitting 6 times the amount of CO2[9].

Also, the emissions of wood(biomass product) fires used for cooking is believed to kill around 2 million people are year worldwide. The poorest countries are most susceptible to these emissions. Mainly in Latin America, India, Africa, and Asia.

2. Costs

The construction and cost of managing biomass energy plants can get quite high. For these plants to generate power is significantly more expensive than the current power generation methods we are using[5].

In some areas, companies find that the biomass projects will not be worth the price it costs to install, and the projects never get finished[11].

3. Seasonality

Depending on the source of biomass getting used, we could end up with a limited yearly supply available.

4. Health Groups Are Now Speaking Against Burning Biomass

A large number of different health groups have banded together and signed a document for congress.

According to the health groups, the issue with biomass is its usage can create air pollution that causes a sweeping array of health problems. The paper states that


burning biomass can cause different health problems fro us. From asthma attacks to cancer to heart attacks, resulting in emergency room visits, hospitalizations, and premature deaths.

Medical and Nursing Organizations www.nrdc.org

The goal of the organizations is to reduce biomass usage and instead focus on other healthier sources of renewable energy like solar and wind.

They outline that burning biomass causes emissions of particulate matter (aka soot), nitrogen oxide, which contributes to ground-level ozone pollution, various carcinogens, and carbon monoxide[3].

5. Can Cause Forest Clear-Cutting

Unfortunately, many of the new biomass electricity generation systems proposed in the U.S. are looking at using wood as the primary source[2].

Since our logging residue is unlikely to meet the increased demand. Many people fear that to keep these power plants continually operational forest clear-cutting would need to happen.

Forest clear-cutting has shown to cause significant issues for the local ecosystem. Most locations where clear-cutting is done become more vulnerable to invasive plants and animals. The loss of even a few indigenous species can alter the entire balance of an ecosystem[6].

6. Commercial Biomass Power Plant Size

The power plants designs for creating massive amounts of energy also utilize a large area of land when compared to other energy sources.

7. Inefficient at Electricity Generation

In an efficiency test for different boilers, gas performed almost twice as efficient when compared to biomass. Even coal had higher efficiency. The fact that biomass releases more carbon while supplying us with less electricity is a significant downside that can not get ignored[9].

Utility-scale biomass boiler: 24%
Average efficiency US coal fleet: 33%
Average gas plant: 43%

Even products like biodiesel ethanol are relatively inefficient when compared to gasoline. In fact, we can not use it alone in a combustion engine unless it is first mixed with gasoline[12].

8. Scalability

To get to a level where alone biomass could supply the same levels of electricity without affecting forests does not seem that realistic.

While it can definitely contribute to our renewable resource generation methods. I do not see it being as viable as other sources like geothermal and hydroelectric.

9. Can Cause Reduction to Soil Health

Organic material needs to get continually added back into the soil for it to remain healthy.

The dead and decaying matter is the foundation of natural fertilizer that keeps our soil full of nutrients. Clear cutting fields for the biomass industry can reduce our soils nutrient levels over time.

The cost of specific biomass crops could also result in more farmers turning towards monoculture farming, creating even more issues for our environment.

10. Questionable Efficiency at Capturing Carbon

while the carbon released from burning biomass is recaptured from future crop generations, the type of biomass burned can significantly alter the time it takes to recover the carbon.

Using items like let's say corn would allow us to capture the carbon back within the next season. But if we are burning 40 or 80-year-old trees that now have substantial levels of carbon stored it would take approximately that long for the recapturing process.

11. Could Effect Certain Crop Prices

Growing significant amounts of corn for use in biomass could negatively affect the amount available for us to eat. If there is less of a crop available for us to consume the price of the product will rise.

The basic supply and demand chains could end up significantly affected. When this happens, the price for some crop types like corn can end up costing us substantially more at our local grocery store.

Many of our traditional food crops, like corn, sugar, and vegetable oils, are also getting used in energy feedstocks.

This could shift agricultural land from producing food to the production of dedicated energy crops instead[10].

12. Renewable But An Exhaustible Energy Sources

Unlike wind, solar, and wave energy sources, the amount of biomass we can collect for electricity generation is limited.

According to a 2011 article by the Partnership for Policy Integrity (PFPI), 55 million tons of wood (roughly 650,000 clear-cut acres of forest) are needed each year to provide enough fuel for predicted biomass facilities coming online over the next three years. That volume cannot be met by existing wood scrap and waste[1].

So to meet the high demand for electricity generation, we would need to perform forest clear-cutting.

13. Few Technological Advancements

The systems in place for biomass energy has seen little progress in increasing the efficiency of this energy source.

Since the current setups do not simplify the process or make it available at a low cost, few governments are willing to invest in the sector[8].

14. Biogas Production Reliant on Temperature

Like solar and wind biogas generation is also affected by the weather.

If digesters are in cold environments, electricity will need to get supplied to heat the product to 100 Fahrenheit(37 Celcius) to allow the necessary bacteria to thrive.

This could cause the burning of fossil fuels to ensure the systems stay at the required temperature.

Conclusion

While biomass is an interesting renewable resource, it is quite different from our other sources.

I do not really like the extent that it gets directly tied to farms, forests, and other ecosystems where our biomass feedstocks get obtained.

This gives biomass the potential to result in a wide range of environmental and social impacts, both positive and negative. We could possibly limit the adverse effects by reducing wood-burning and relying on using fast-growing crops that can withstand the sustainably needed.

I do like how we can use our trash as an energy source for these systems. Since we produce such massive levels of organic waste that end up just sitting in landfills, redirecting this trash for energy generation is a great idea.

But stations that use this method must also have filters in place to reduce the odors for the people living near these plants.

I was also surprised and did not expect to find so many different negative aspects getting tied to this energy source.



[1] https://www.usu.edu/ipe/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/Reliability-Biomass-Condensed.pdf
[2] https://blogs.ei.columbia.edu/2011/08/18/is-biomass-really-renewable/
[3] https://www.nrdc.org/experts/sasha-stashwick/health-groups-congress-burning-biomass-bad-health
[4] https://www.appropedia.org/Biogas_from_human_waste
[5] https://www.nsenergybusiness.com/features/newsmajor-pros-and-cons-of-biomass-energy-5845830/
[6] https://greenliving.lovetoknow.com/environmental-issues/effects-clear-cutting
[7] https://www.bioenergy-news.com/news/bioenergy-has-significant-potential-to-reduce-fossil-fuel-reliance-in-cities-new-study-finds/
[8] https://www.homebiogas.com/Blog/141/Advantages_and_Disadvantages_of_Biogas
[9] https://www.pfpi.net/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/PFPI-biomass-carbon-accounting-overview_April.pdf
[10] https://www.eesi.org/topics/bioenergy-biofuels-biomass/description
[11] https://energyinformative.org/biomass-energy-pros-and-cons/
[12] https://www.conserve-energy-future.com/pros-and-cons-of-biomass-energy.php
[13] https://vittana.org/22-important-biomass-pros-and-cons
[14] https://www.bioenergyconsult.com/batteries-biomass-energy/