The sources on Earth are limited, people have been working hard to find new types of renewable ones. Biomass energy refers to organic matter that has stored energy through the process of photosynthesis, it’s one of renewable sources of energy,  also the oldest source of energy after the sun. (EIA, 2018)

1. Types of Biomass Energy and The Benefits

1.1 Types of Biomass

  • Wood and agricultural products, which accounts about 44% of biomass energy. Wood and wood waste are used to generate electricity, while paper mills and saw mills use much of their waste products to generate steam and electricity.
  • Solid waste. Burning trash turns waste into a usable form of energy, such as heat and electricity.
  • Landfill gas and bio-gas. Landfills can collect the methane gas, purify it, and use it as fuel, or to produce electricity, and even for cooking and lighting.
  • Alcohol fuels. Ethanol is an alcohol fuel (ethyl alcohol) made from corn from trees, grasses, and crop residues.

1

Figure 1.1 Biomass Energy Types (EIA, 2018) 

1.2 Benefits of Biomass

Biomass is one of the most plentiful and well-utilized sources of renewable energy in the world, it has a variety of benefits.

  • The most apparent advantage of biomass energy is renewable, which means that it cannot be depleted like fossil fuels. Biomass mostly derives from plants, crops, manure and garbage, which are always available to take and gather.
  • Reducing carbon footprint. Compared to fossil fuels, biomass produces less carbon footprint. New plants grow to replace the old ones that were used to produce biomass energy before. The use of fossil fuel reduces when biomass energy is produced, which lowers the carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere.
  • Cleaning environment. One of the consequences of the population explosion is the constantly increasing waste that needed to be disposed. Fortunately, people could use the garbage to produce energy, which will definitely help cleaning environment.
  • The potential source for the production of biomass energy are easily to find all over the world. Unlike fossil fuel, there is no need to worry about the exhaustion of biomass energy.
  • Cost-effective. Generally, biomass cost about 1/3 less than coal and oil while producing the same energy so that there will a considerable saving in long-term using.

1

Figure 1.2 Biomass Energy Benefits (ReEnergy Holdings LLC, 2018)

2. Biomass Conversion Technologies

2.1. Biomass Energy Conversion Mechanism

Biomass stores solar energy in a form of chemical energy through plant photosynthesis, therefore, biomass is mainly composed of carbon, hydrogen organic matter and a small amount of metal elements such as potassium and sodium. Bio-energy refers to the use of organic material converting to produce energy, and it has the advantages of less sulfur, nitrogen and carbon dioxide emissions. (EIA, 2018)

3

Figure 2.1 Biomass (ALT COMPANY, 2018)

2.2. Main Techniques for Bio-energy Conversion

Biomass raw materials converts into energy that can be directly used in industrial and agricultural production mainly through physical, chemical and biological methods. The conversion product includes solid energy, liquid energy, and gaseous energy. Solid energy is mainly material particles; liquid energy includes bio-ethanol, bio-diesel, pyrolysis oil, etc.; gaseous energy has bio-gas, hydrogen, biomass gas, etc.

4

Figure 2.2 Biomass Energy (ETHZ, 2018)

2.2.1 Biomass Physical Convention Technology

Biomass raw materials normally have loose texture, large water content, large space consumption and low combustion efficiency, so we can use the raw materials for drying, crushing, cutting and compressing, so that biomass raw materials can turn into solid-formed fuel with high density, strength and combustion efficiency. (McDougal, Eidemiller and Weires, 2010)

5

Figure 2.2.1 wood pellet

2.2.2 Biomass Thermochemical Conversion Technologies

Biomass thermochemical conversion technology refers to the technology of converting biomass into fuel material by chemical method under heating conditions, and it includes combustion, gasification, pyrolysis and liquefaction.

2.2.2.1 Combustion

Directly combustion of the biomass is the most common biomass energy conversion technology, and the main purpose is to obtain heat. Combustion can be used for space heating and power generation by the heating Steam. (U.S. Department of Energy, 2016)

6

Figure 2.2.2.1 Combustion (ALT COMPANY, 2018)

7video 2.2.2.1 Combustion (Biofuels Edu, 2013)

2.2.2.2 Gasification

Biomass gasification is the conversion of biomass raw material into a combustible gas mixture. Oxygen (air, rich oxygen or pure oxygen), water vapor or hydrogen as gasification agents are used in the gasification process. The combustible part of biomass is converted to gas by thermal chemical reaction at high temperatures. (U.S. Department of Energy, 2018)

2Figure 2.2.2.2 Gasification (Alt Company, 2018)

3Video 2.2.2.2 Gasification (NETL, 2014)

2.2.2.3 Pyrolysis

Biomass pyrolysis is the process that biomass degrades in a completely anaerobic or hypoxic condition and results in the formation of biooil, charcoal and combustible gases. Pyrolysis products include gases, liquids and bio-char. the proportions of each depends on the parameters of the method. (Zafar, 2018)

4Figure 2.2.2.3 Pyrolysis (Alt Company, 2018)

5video 2.2.2.3 Pyrolysis (skocu, 2017)

2.2.2.4 Liquefaction

Biomass liquefaction is a thermal chemical reaction process in which solid biomass reacts directly with hydrogen at high pressure and at a certain temperature (hydrogenation).  High hydrogen pressure is generally used as catalysts in order to improve the reaction speed and improve the stability of the process. (Pennsylvania State University, 2018)

7Figure 2.2.2.4 Liquefaction (Fundamental Trajectory, 2018)

6Video 2.2.2.4 Liquefaction (Biofuels Edu, 2013)

The interrelationships between the four conversion technologies and the products are shown in the following figure.

8Figure 2.2.2 Thermochemical Conversion Products

2.2.3 Biomass Biochemical Conversion Technology

The biochemical transformation technology of biomass mainly includes biological fermentation technology and anaerobic digestion technology. The main product of biological fermentation is ethanol, and the product of anaerobic digestion is biogas.

2.2.3.1 Fermentation

Bio-fermentation involves converting a plant’s glucose (or carbohydrates) into alcohol or acid. yeast or bacteria is added to biomass materials, which feed on the sugars to produce ethanol and carbon dioxide. The ethanol is distilled and dehydrated to obtain a higher concentration of alcohol to achieve the purity required to be used as a vehicle fuel. Solid residues from the fermentation process can be used as bovine feed, fuel for boilers or for gasification. (Cados, 2018)

9Figure 2.2.3.1 Fermentation (Alt Company, 2018)

10      Video 2.2.3.1 Fermentation (BioenergyKDFChannel, 2012)

2.2.3.2 Bio-Digestion

Bio-digestion or anaerobic digestion is a relatively mature biological energy production technology. Organic waste and household waste are integrated in anaerobic environmental conditions, and the bacteria breaks down organic matter without air and produce biogas containing methane and solid residues. The methane can be captured to generate energy, and the solid residues can burn to generate energy too. (American Biogas Council, 2018)

11Figure 2.2.3.2 Bio-digestion (Alt Company, 2018)

12Video 2.2.3.1 Bio-digestion (VeoliaUK, 2016)

3. The History and Applications Of Biomass Energy

3.1. History of Biomass

13Figure 3.1.1 History of Biomass (Gregory, 2013)

  • Biomass energy covers the entire life of our planet (Gregory, 2013).
  • This energy has been used since the cave people discovered the fire (Gregory, 2013).
  • In the 1970’s, scientists became interested in the possibility of replacing fossil fuels with biomasses. (Stacey, 2017)
  • Around 1975, ” Biomass” became the official name of the energy. (Stacey, 2017)
  • In the 1980s, the Office of Technical Evaluation estimated that more than a quarter of the United States needed to use biomass materials. This will not happen until people stop using fossil fuels  (Wiedenbeck, 2009).
  • In the 2000’s, the U.S. government developed a program to use biomass by the co-firing method. This program, however, was not successful. The idea was revived, and a great deal of money was being spent (Yang, 2016).

3.2. Typical Applications of Biomass

3.2.1   Heating and Cooking

Biomass systems range from small stoves used in homes for heating or cooking to large power plants used by centralized utilities to produce electricity.

14Figure 3.2.1.1 Biomass Boilers (Renewable Living, 2018)

In residential applications, biomass can be used for space heating or for cooking. Wood is the most common source of fuel, although many different materials are used. New designs for woodstoves can improve the efficiency of the cooking or heating system, decreasing the amount of fuel that is needed. (Thakur, 2013)

3.2.2   Self-Contained Power Generation:

In addition, Biomass gasifiers in industry or research are often used as self-contained power generation units. In India, rice systems have been put into rice mills, and rice husks are used as raw materials for gasifiers (Yang, 2016).

15        Figure 3.2.2.1 Biomass Power Generation (Yang, A. 2016)

Industry and businesses use biomass for several purposes including space heating, hot water heating, and electricity generation. Many industrial facilities, such as lumber mills, naturally produce organic waste. (Ncibi, 2014)

4. Limitation and Future of Biomass Energy

Despite of various of advantages about bio-energy; there are still several factors restrict the progress of applying bio-energy widely.

4.1 Insufficient Fund

One of the factors is that the funding is not enough to make the significant progress on applying bio-energy. Bio-energy is a comparatively new type of renewable source, and the technology of it is not well-developed, which makes it less attractive than other kinds of sustainable energies for investors. Therefore, the funding is more focus on solar energy, wind energy. Those type of power seems to have more advantages than bio-energy.

16

Figure 4.1 Money (DragonArtz Designs, 2009)

4.2 Environmental Damage

The original thought of bio-energy is to use the waste efficiently. However, most of the bio-energy production is not using the waste. Some producers directly chop down the tree and get the wood to produce energy. In this way, the output of bio-energy is more efficient than collecting waste from all over the ranches, because collecting waste is not only costly but also time-consuming work. However, it not only exerts adverse impacts on the environment but also run counter to the original intention of bio-energy.

17Figure 4.2 Bio-gas (European Environment Agency, 2009)

4.3 Unmatured Production and Marketing System

The production and marketing system of bioenergy is not mature enough in present society. There is no specific standard for producing bioenergy. The ingredient of bioenergy is from multiple types of wastes, mostly is from the farmland, forest, foods. But how to collect those waste? Is there a policy to keep the process safe? Is there a standard agreement between ranchers and bioenergy producers? Those are still the problems waiting to be solved. Besides, according to a scientist Sharara, due to the nature of the season, the supply is not stable. But it is hard to blame the farmers since operating the biology system isn’t a core function of farms. (Mahmoud A. Sharara, 2018)

18Figure 4.3 Shredded Corn Stover (Krauskopf, 2008)

 4.4 Unwell-Developed Technology

Owing to the limited funding, the technology of creating bioenergy unable to be well-developed when there are limited resources for them to study. Therefore, The scientist is not motivated to improve this technology; and facilities used to convert the waste to energy tend to be old and designed inefficiently.

19Figure 4.4 Bio-energy Factory (successatschool, 2018)

Biomass energy has become a great alternative now days to using fossil fuels for energy production. Combining economic and environmental character of energy sources, biomass might be on top of your list as one of the best energy sources.

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