Biomass is a type of renewable energy in which organic matter is used as an energy source. This organic matter is originated in a biological process, either spontaneous or provoked.

Biomass energy ultimately comes from the sun. Through photosynthesis, the plant kingdom absorbs and stores part of the solar energy that reaches the earth. Plant cells use solar radiation to form organic substances from simple substances and CO2 present in the air.

The animal kingdom incorporates, transforms, and modifies this energy. In this process of transformation of organic matter, by-products are generated that have no value for the nutritional chain or do not serve for the manufacture of market products but can be used as fuel in different energy uses.

What is biomass?

The word biomass refers to all organic matter from plants and animal waste that can be transformed into energy, as well as waste from agricultural activities, forestry waste from sawmills such as sawdust, bark, pruning, branches, and other usable urban waste.

Did you know...
Biomass is a source of renewable energy as old as the discovery of fire by our ancestors. It is responsible for enabling us to produce energy from biomass

The first inhabitants of the planet, used direct combustion to improve their living conditions, heating food outdoors in bonfires first and then in ovens and handmade stoves, or generating steam and electricity from the use of this primary energy source present in nature.


Examples of biomass

[note_color=»#faffdb» radius=»0″]Corn, coffee or rice residues, olive pits, nutshells, vine pruning waste, other plant branches, wood pellets, sawdust, firewood, tree bark, or tons of organic waste generated in urban centers, are sources of renewable energy originating from heterogeneous organic matter. [/note]

The origin of biomass is solar because it is derived from photosynthesis performed by plants or autotrophic beings.

How it influences ecology

The first thing to be said in favor of this bio-based energy is that it contributes decisively to the maintenance or preservation of forests, savannahs, parks, or forest reserves. Therefore, it has a positive effect on ecology

It also promotes the recycling of waste derived from agricultural activity, because all the waste is collected and used to produce a type of renewable energy with a low impact on the environment.

That is why it is considered clean and safe energy.

What examples can we find?

 The best examples of the versatility or heterogeneity  of this energy are achieved in the different types of biomass used in power generation, mainly thermal energy and electricity

These are:

Natural biomass

This corresponds to the waste generated by nature, without human intervention.

It is found in  forests, thickets or green areas of the planet. 

Did you know that...
The best example of this biomass is the large quantities of leaves and branches that begin to fall to the ground, in view of the imminent arrival of winter and the autumn farewell.


Residual biomass

It has its origin in the  forests, scrublands or green areas of the planet. 

For example:
Some examples of dry waste are sawdust, shells from fruits such as almond trees or olive pits and even fruit tree pruning, where pieces of organic matter will be lost.

There are also wet waste masses such as «black» or sewage that flow in urban centers, putrefied food waste that must be disposed of in supermarkets and municipal sales centers, waste from livestock feces, or the biodegradable industrial type, among many others.

Biomass generated or energy crops

Here  crops are intentionally generated in spaces dedicated to biomass production,  being classified depending on the type of soil where they grow, the product harvested, and the final utilization.

For example, rapid-growing plants are used. In the Mediterranean area, it usually selects woody species grown in short-rotation shifts or herbaceous species where the thistle stands out.

What is a biomass plant?

Foremost, we need to know where the biomass we need to bring to a plant for industrial processing comes from.

  1. Experts agree that the best sources of biomass are found in forestry and agricultural fields since these natural areas produce large quantities of waste or stubble left abandoned in the field.
  2. For example, they are very useful as primary power sources for biomass plants or factories: sugarcane bagasse, coffee, and rice husks, produced in agribusiness, or by-products obtained in grain drying processes, ideal for heat generation in direct combustion systems.
  3. Another first-rate organic raw material for biomass plants is generated in urban centers, where large quantities of food waste are discarded daily and end up in the garbage, instead of being used in a suitable way to generate much cheaper and cleaner energy.
  4. An «energy farm» or biomass plant is a facility capable of supplying a large percentage required by a community, from the conscious and rational use of waste, subjected to combustion processes with the help of technology and proper management of the biomass that is practically available everywhere.
  5. In rural areas, these facilities are key to revitalizing the local economic activity, opening sources of employment in depressed villages, where at the same time associated environmental benefits are achieved, from the conscious and rational use of organic matter available in nature.
  6. To this is added the addition of technological advances to biomass energy, which have allowed the construction of viable solutions from the economic and technical point of view (greater efficiency and performance) in the so-called biomass power plants, where processes of biomass conversion into energy are executed, transforming it into liquid or gaseous fuels, which are of as good quality as those that come from fossils.

Biomass agriculture

In biomass plants, two types of processes occur: thermochemical and biochemical.

Today, there are many countries that have chosen to take on the challenge of multiplying biomass plants, but the European continent has been the most effective globally, where they have built the largest plants in the world, 7 of which are located in Finland, to contribute a significant 1,100 MW of electricity generation. It is followed in order of importance by England and Poland.

But how does a typical biomass plant work?

A biomass power plant  has the following equipment and processes: 

    1. Cultivation and harvesting of wood, biomass feedstock.
    2. Transport of the wood to the farm or energy industry.
    3. Chipping of the raw material.
    4. Chipping of the raw material.
    5. Preparation.
    6. Coarse fuel storage.
    7. Fine fuel storage.
    8. Fine fuel storage.
    9. Dosifier.
    10. Air Inlet.
    11. Air Inlet.
    12. Liquid fuel storage.
    13. Liquid fuel storage.
    14. Boiler.
    15. Economizer.
    16. Ash collection area.
    17. Electrofilter.
    18. Electrofilter.
    19. Water water feed tank.
    20. Condensate tank.
    21. Heat generation.
    22. Heat generation.
    23. Generator.
    24. Turbine.
    25. Transformers.
    26. Transmission or transport lines of electrical energy

How biomass is processed

Biomass can be revalued in boilers where the organic material is burned gradually, very slowly. In the same way, ashes are produced that are later used as a fertilizer or compost with very good results to nourish soils.

If an accumulator were added to this system, then the excess heat can be stored.

What is it used for?

Biomass what is itBiomass is most commonly used to produce heat and in some industries, it is used to generate electricity, thanks to a somewhat more complex process.

In homes, strategically located biomass boilers can also be installed to provide heat and warm the house in winter periods,  with the help of the underfloor heating method. 

Water, replacing resistance heaters, which raise the electric bill, affecting the family economy.

What is organic energy?

Although biomass is formed from solar energy contained in the matter by the effect of the photosynthesis process generated by the living plant, it should not be confused in any way with any kind of energy coming from the sun.

The Sun, rather, is a medium that allows the transformation of matter so that it can then be used by combustion processes, in industrial electrical installations with large-scale boilers capable of producing electricity or in boilers for domestic use to support the production of thermal energy in homes. 

So organic energy is that type of renewable energy resulting from the combustion processes applied to biomass from organic waste found in nature.

What environmental impact does it have?

  • BiomassOne of the main difficulties, although to a lesser degree when compared to other types of energy, is that when looking for feedstock in nature from biomass in the wrong way, you can cause deforestation of forests, a practice that does nothing to improve the health of the planet, which has been hit hard by climate change that is advancing like an incurable disease, destabilizing the «green systems» of the planet.
  • Also, when entire crops are dedicated to «feeding» organic matter to industrial biomass plants, local food security can be affected, because soils end up being exhausted and traditional items on the family table are diverted to produce energy.
  • Another disadvantage lies in the fact that many hectares or plant space needs to be used, reserved only for the generation of crops and their subsequent storage and transfer to the plant, which complicates logistics if they are far from the biomass production center (farm or energy plant).
  • It is NOT a 100% clean energy, because in its industrial processing some greenhouse gases are emitted, although in small quantities. Some of these toxic gases are sulfur dioxide, which is produced in tiny quantities when compared to the emissions of this same gas in the case of power generation from fossil fuels such as oil.
Teresa Vaz Ferra