Will Biomass Fuel Our Future?

There are numerous alternatives to petroleum available but they are still not as popular or available as oil is.  One such alternative is called biomass and like the name suggests, it is an organic material which also happens to be a renewable energy source.  With an oil crisis on the horizon, alternative energy sources such as biomass may be the answer to a greener and more sustainable method of fueling our future.  

What Is Biomass?

Biomass is material that is derived from living or deceased organisms and is most often comprised of plant-based materials.  It can be used as an energy source through combustion, which produces heat, or as biofuel.  Like petroleum and gasoline, biomass must be converted into biofuel for it to be a functional substance in combustion engines. 

Biomass can also be grown and later converted.  Examples of crops used in biomass and biofuel include hemp, corn, sorghum, bamboo, eucalyptus and oil palm.  These plants are specifically grown for fuel and have a low input of energy consumption.

The largest source of biomass energy comes from wood.  After a forest has been clear-cut, the residual matter such as stumps, branches, dead trees, and other scraps of wood and clippings are collected and converted into a pulp known as "black liquor," a byproduct of paper making. 

Black Liquor 

Black liquor is a biomass waste product from the paper industry.  The substance is what is left after removing the cellulose from fibers.  It is full of plant energy which can still be used as fuel.  

Paper mills have been using black liquor as fuel since the early 20th century. The substance is collected and burnt in boilers to generate steam which can help generate up to 66% of the energy they need to run the mill.  By reusing their own waste biomass, paper mills are somewhat self sufficient and have drastically reduced their electricity costs and needs. 

In History

Humans have been using biomass energy since the discovery of fire.  Wood, when burnt is a very basic, yet important, form of biomass energy.  To this day, in some developing countries, biomass energy is the only form of fuel that is used for domestic use.  It makes sense; its often free, its renewable and also accessible when compared to electricity or a gas tank. 

Certain forms of biomass can be converted into other substances for energy consumption such as ethanol and biodiesel.  Organic material decomposes and rots. With this breakdown comes methane gas which in this case is called biogas.  Some crops like sugar cane and corn can be fermented to create biogas which can be used as transportation fuel. 

Sometimes all we need to do is to look back and see what our ancestors used as a fuel source.  The simplest form of energy and heat, may once again play a major role in our future's energy.  


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About avocado

I am a globe trotting visual artist who is also vegan. I've been living in Bali for the last few years and am currently in back in Canada learning how to stay warm.


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