How Green is Biomass?

As we strive to shrink our global carbon footprint, society must alter its energy sources. Solar panels and wind turbines are two familiar types of green power that contribute to protecting the planet. Investing in renewables can improve the environment and lower the cost of electricity.

As scientists look for efficient and sustainable solutions to non-renewable energy use, they turn back to basics. People used to rely on fire for fuel. Today, we can utilize these age-old practices to limit our reliance on environmentally polluting fuel sources.

The Importance of Renewable Energy

Nearly 80% of our current energy comes from coal, oil and gas. The use of fossil fuels in power production harms human health and the planet.

About 2.6 million Americans experience health issues from oil and gas exposure from fossil fuel transportation and processing facilities. Benzene and formaldehyde are two toxins associated with nonrenewable energy production that contribute to leukemia and blood disorders. The workers who mine oil and gas also risk exposure to airborne pollutants that cause lung cancer and breathing difficulties.

The production of fossil fuel energy affects the environment by emitting greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. The greenhouse effect is a natural process that the Earth uses to maintain life on its surface. It keeps the global temperature consistent to protect the ecosystem’s functionality.

Adding pollutants into the atmosphere changes its composition. These greenhouse gases absorb the sun’s energy, convert it into heat and release it back to space. Excess contaminants make it difficult to allow heat to escape. This increases the global temperature over time.

Renewable energy sources act as an alternative to greenhouse gas-emitting power. Various companies are working on producing a chemical-free solution known as biomass energy.

What is Biomass?

Biomass is a form of renewable energy derived from organic materials. Wood was the original source used by the first humans for survival. Now, we can rely on wood pellets, sawdust, black liquor and more to create commercial and residential fuel options.

We can also utilize agricultural matter to produce biomass. Soybeans, corn, algae, sugar cane and other plants can create fuel to power our homes, electric cars and devices. Scientists are also using refuse for energy production. Municipal solid waste, like cotton, paper, yarn and food, can transform into biomass power. A less appealing way to produce this renewable energy derives from animal manure and human waste.

Companies take these materials and create energy through a direct combustion process. It forms a refined liquid or gas to burn for power. Because plants grow naturally and indefinitely on Earth, biomass is a renewable source.

Environmental Effect of Biomass

Although biomass production and use emit no direct carbon into the environment, it may be less sustainable than other renewable power sources. When burned, these fuels release toxins like nitrogen oxide, sulfur dioxide and particulate matter into the atmosphere.

Biomass production also contributes to deforestation. Many companies use soybeans to create the renewable fuel, which affects forests in Argentina. The country produces 15% of the global soy source, using 16 million hectares of forest land for production.

As Argentina increases production to meet international demands, it must cut down trees and vegetation to make space for agricultural growth. The monoculture of soy also leads to soil depletion. To reverse these environmental impacts, farms use synthetic fertilizers and pesticides on their land.

Because biomass crops are water-intensive, they contribute to runoff pollution. When farmers water their plants, the synthetic fertilizers and pesticides drain into the ocean, contributing to oxygen depletion and dead zones. The significant amount of water used to produce these crops leads to resource exploitation. It takes nearly 4,000 gallons of water to grow a bushel of corn for biomass energy.

Is Biomass Worth the Destruction?

Biomass can effectively reduce the carbon footprint. The renewable energy source also limits the adverse health effects associated with conventional energy production. However, it emits air pollutants into the atmosphere, causing deforestation and water exploitation, which decreases its sustainability.

The answer is complicated. Every renewable energy source has its downfalls. When you use a bit of energy from each green resource, you can limit your environmental impact and still power the planet.

About Jane Marsh

Jane, the founder and editor-in-chief of Environment.co, covers topics in renewable energy, green technology and the environment.
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One Response to How Green is Biomass?

  1. Pingback: Towards Sustainable Biomass Energy | BioEnergy Consult

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