Generating Electricity from Biomass

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Power Generation from Biomass Resources

Currently, biomass power plants in the US produce 11,000 MW a year. Most electricity from biomass is created by the pulp and paper industries, which use residues from their own production processes to power their plants. The US Energy Information Administration estimates that there are 590 million wet tons of biomass available yearly. Most biomass power plants use lumber, agricultural wood waste or construction and demolition wood wastes.

While creation of electricity from biomass is still greatly underutilized, there are several technologies currently in use.

Direct Combustion

In this process, dedicated power plants that use direct combustion process to create electricity burn the biomass fuel in boilers. The process creates steam that is used by the steam-electric generators, the same ones used to burn fossil fuels.


Co-firing process combines coal with biomass to create energy. Herbaceous and woody material such as willow, poplar, and switch grass are added to coal in a coal power plant. To be considered co-firing, biomass has to represents between one and 15 percents of the energy source used by the coal plant. In this process, biomass is burned in boilers, just like coal. Co-firing is very cost-efficient system, as the upgrading of a coal-burning plant to a co-firing one consists of purchasing a boiler that is capable of burning biomass, and adding it into the already existing production system. This is evidently much less costly than constructing a new plant.

Since most of the electricity in the United States is currently generated by coal-fired plants, this provides great potential for the cheap use of biomass for creating electricity. This is particularly important since burning biomass is much less polluting than burning coal. By replacing coal with biomass, the process significantly decreases emissions of nitrogen and sulphur oxides, which cause smog, ozone pollution and acid rain. The process also releases much less carbon dioxide. Co-firing is an excellent, cheap and immediate option for reduced use of fossil fuel, in this case coal.

Biomass Gasification

Biomass gasification process converts biomass into flammable gasses, such as methane, which are then used to fuel steam generators, fuel cells, combustion turbines or combined cycle technologies. This variety of uses is the primary advantage of biomass gasification over direct combustion, but the process is still in experimental stage.

Anaerobic Digestion

Generating electric power from biomass resources has excellent potential

Anaerobic Digestion process uses manure and solid waste as a biofuel. The waste or manure is broken by water and bacteria, releasing methane and other gasses. Methane is then utilized to power electric turbines. Anaerobic digestion happens naturally where wet organic matter accumulates in the absence of oxygen. This commonly occurs in swamps, the sediments of ponds and lakes, peat bogs, animal intestines, and in the landfills, which are rich sources of methane. Collection of methane for fuel has an added benefit that removes methane from the atmosphere, where it is one of the most potent greenhouse gasses.

Power generation from biomass has excellent potential, but it requires modern technology that ensures that the creation of greenhouse gasses, which accompany burning organic material, is kept to the minimum. In any case, in comparison with burning coal, the fuel used for the creation of most electricity in the US, biomass is by far better alternative.

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Power generation from biomass has excellent potential, if modern technology reduces the creation of greenhouse gasses