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Biomass and Biogas Energy

The term "biomass" refers to organic matter that has stored energy through the process of photosynthesis. It exists in one form as plants and may be transferred through the food chain to animals' bodies and their wastes, all of which can be converted for everyday human use through processes such as combustion, which releases the carbon dioxide stored in the plant material. 

Many of the biomass fuels used today come in the form of wood products, dried vegetation, crop residues, and aquatic plants. Biomass has become one of the most commonly used renewable sources of energy in the last two decades, second only to hydropower in the generation of electricity. It is such a widely utilized source of energy, probably due to its low cost and indigenous nature, that it accounts for almost 15% of the world's total energy supply and as much as 35% in developing countries, mostly for cooking and heating.

It is also used to raise steam, which, in turn, is used as a by-product to generate electricity. Considerable research and development work is currently underway to develop smaller gasifiers that would produce electricity on a small-scale. For the moment, however, biomass is used for off-grid electricity generation, but almost exclusively on a large or industrial scale.

Biomass has some environmental pros and cons.  For instance, the replacement of coal by biomass could significantly  reduce carbon dioxide emissions. On the other hand, the use of wood and other plant material for fuel may mean deforestation. We are all aware of the problems associated with denuding forests, and widespread clear cutting can lead to groundwater contamination and irreversible erosion patterns that could literally change the structure of the world ecology.

Links to more information:

Renewable Energy - What Is Biomass

UK Biomass Energy Centre

What is Biomass

NZ's Biomass Resources