Question: How does bio-mass renewable energy work?

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  1. Here is a rather simple explanation. Biomass refers to any living or recently living thing that can be used to produce energy. For example, wood is biomass. Burning wood to heat water and drive a steam turbine to generate electricity would be an example of generating usable energy from biomass. In this example, of course, burning the wood releases the carbon in the wood into the atmosphere. It only becomes renewable and carbon neutral if at the same time as burning the wood you can plant enough new trees to soak up an amount of carbon released by the burning. There are many variations on the type of biomass fuel and the energy extraction methods, but this is the basic idea.


  2. Hi Caton,

    Biomass is the use of biological material, plants and animals, as an energy source.

    We get energy from biomass in a couple of ways. Directly by burning it, or indirectly by converting it to liquid or gas fuel.

    Animals have been used for thousands of years to provide power for transportation and work. The blubber of whales was used for a long time as fuel for oil lamps.

    Plants, specifically crops, are a great source of bioenergy. Corn and sugar cane are used to make ethanol, which can be used as a fuel for vehicles, due to their high sugar content.

    Craig Venter, of the Venter Institute, is a biologist working on synthetic life. One of their projects is to bioengineer algae to produce a better yield of fuel biofuel.


  3. Hi Caton,
    ‘Renewable energy’ means energy that comes from natural resources that can be replenished, such as sunlight, wind, rain, tides, geothermal energy (thermal energy that is generated and stored in the Earth), and biomass. ‘Biomass’ is biological material from living or recently living organisms (as Steven has said), and is usually thought of as being plant-derived, although it can also come from animals (as Dustin has mentioned).

    Plant-derived biomass (like wood) is a renewable energy source because it contains energy that originally comes from the sun (from photosynthesis), and so when the plant material is burnt, the sun’s energy is released. So biomass is kind of like a natural, solar energy-storing battery, and this battery will last pretty much forever if the plants/biomass are grown/produced in a way that can be sustained.

    There are two main ways of using plant biomass for producing energy. One of these is to actually grow plants specifically for using them as an energy source, and the second is to use parts of already growing plants such as dead branches or tree stumps, or parts that are left over from other processes (residues). Like Dustin has said, you can either burn the biomass itself, or have it converted into a biofuel which is then burnt, in order to release the energy that it contains. Some other examples of plants that can be used as sources of biomass (in addition to corn and sugarcane) are willow, sorghum, eucalyptus trees, palm trees, and even hemp! Apparently the largest source of energy from wood is actually a waste product from pulping and paper production that is called “pulping liquor” (about 7 ton of pulping liquor is produced for every 1 ton of pulp!). And another example of a biofuel is “biodiesel” – this is produced from vegetable oils or animal fats, and can either be used as a fuel for cars by itself, or in a mixture with diesel.


  4. Everyone else has this covered, even the bacteria and algae I wanted to mention 🙁



  1. Thanks for your answer Steven!