What is Biomass
Biomass fuels come from things that once lived: wood products, dried vegetation, crop residues, aquatic plants and even garbage. It is known as 'Natural Material'. Plants used up a lot of the sun's energy to make their own food (photosynthesis). They stored the foods in the plants in the form of chemical energy. As the plants died, the energy is trapped in the residue. This trapped energy is usually released by burning and can be converted into biomass energy.
Wood is a biomass fuel. It is renewable. As long as we continue to plant new trees to replace those that were cut down, we will always have wood to burn. Just as with the fossil fuels, the energy stored in biomass fuels came originally from the Sun.
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. (More reading on Bioenergy or Biofuel here)
How is biomass converted into energy?
This is a very common way of converting organic matter into energy. Burning stuff like wood, waste and other plant matter releases stored chemical energy in the form of heat, which can be used to turn shafts to produce electricity. Let's see this simple illustration of how biomass is used to generate electricity.
1. Energy from the sun is transferred and stored in plants. When the plants are cut or die, wood chips, straw and other plant matter is delivered to the bunker
2. This is burned to heat water in a boiler to release heat energy (steam).
3. The energy/power from the steam is directed to turbines with pipes
4. The steam turns a number of blades in the turbine and generators, which are made of coils and magnets.
5. The charged magnetic fields produce electricity, which is sent to homes by cables.
Other ways in which organic matter can be converted into energy include:
Things that can rot, like garbage, human and animal waste, dead animals and the like can be left to rot, releasing a gas called biogas (also known as methane gas or landfill gas). Methane can be captured by a machine called Microturbine and converted into electricity. Sometimes, animal waste (poop) can also be converted into methane by a machine called 'Anaerobic Digester'
Ethanol can be produced from crops with lots of sugars, like corn and sugarcane. The process used to produce ethanol is called gasification.