Biomass is organic matter, such as agricultural and animal wastes, that is collected to create energy in the form of electricity, heat, steam, and fuels. Biomass can be burned in an incinerator to heat water to make steam, which turns a turbine to make electricity. It can also be converted into a liquid or gas, which can be burned to do the same thing.
Biomass includes energy crops like wood, grains, kelp, and beets grown primarily for use as a fuel. Energy crops are renewable, but some, like trees, take a long time to grow. For example, farmers can grow trees on some of their land instead of wheat or other kinds of food. The wood is harvested regularly, cut into small chips and burned to provide heat or run small electric power plants.
Another type of biomass is methane gas, a by-product of decay in landfills. As garbage rots in the ground, it gives off gases that can be collected and burned to produce heat or electricity.
- Leftover plant matter and wood waste are readily available from farms and lumber mills.
- Capturing landfill gas for electricity production keeps methane out of the air.
- Many types of biomass can generate electricity at any time, unlike wind and solar power.
- Biomass does produce some air pollution, but less than fossil fuels.
- Storing biomass and building landfill gas-burning power plants can be costly.
- Growing crops for electricity production and transportation may reduce crops used for food.