Biomass energy, which converts animal, human and plant waste into energy, is gaining popularity as a renewable energy source. Biomass energy reduces waste and greenhouse gas emissions, generates electricity and provides additional advantages. Kansas’ renewable generation from biomass comes from two facilities that use landfill gas and have a total generation capacity of 9 megawatts, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
While biomass is typically solid, biofuels are often liquid or gaseous sourced from a variety of feedstocks, and are more often used in transportation because of their ability to be stored as liquids. The Kansas Department of Commerce notes that Kansas ranks fourth in total biomass production with 12 operating biofuel facilities and additional facilities in the works.
Creating energy from biomass requires several phases. First, the collection and transfer of waste to a processing plant where animal, human and plant waste are sorted. After sorting, the waste can be converted to energy through a variety of processes:
Anaerobic digestion Breaking down organic waste without oxygen — is a frequent approach. Biogas can be burned to generate power or heat from this method.
Incinerating biomass also generates energy. This involves a controlled burning of organic waste to generate power or heat.
Pyrolysis is a third biomass-to-energy technique. Bio-oil, a liquid fuel used to generate power or heat, is produced by heating biological waste without oxygen.
Advantages of Biomass Energy
Since waste is constantly being produced, biomass energy is considered a renewable source. Farms and other agricultural enterprises produce animal waste every day, and crop harvesting generates plant waste. Human waste also provides energy-generating organic material. Electricity generated from waste is environmentally sustainable and reduces landfill waste and greenhouse gas emissions.
Cost savings is another significant advantage of biomass energy. Additionally, biomass energy can be produced locally, which reduces reliance on foreign energy sources, stabilizes energy prices and economic risks, and creates employment opportunities in waste management and energy.
Disadvantages of Biomass Energy
Even though there are major advantages to biomass energy, there are a few drawbacks. Not all organic waste can be converted to energy, and certain waste materials are contaminated, therefore unsuited for biomass energy production.
Biomass energy production can also be costly when waste must be transported long distances to a processing facility. To address these issues, the cost and efficiency of biomass energy production are being improved, and new technologies are being developed to enhance anaerobic digestion and other biomass energy production methods.
Despite these challenges, biomass energy has the potential to become an important renewable energy source.
Jennah Denney writes on consumer and cooperative affairs for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, the national trade association representing more than 900 local electric cooperatives.