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What Is Biomass Energy?

Biomass explained

Biomass energy is the biggest source of renewable energy consumed in the UK – but how much do you know about this power source?

With climate change accelerating, our planet is being brought to a dangerous point of no return, making renewable alternatives more important than ever before. Check out our guide to discover everything you need to know about this widely used resource, including:

  • What is biomass?
  • How does it create energy?
  • Are there any negatives of biomass?

What is biomass?

Biomass is a broad term encompassing all things organic, making it a renewable energy source. Some examples of biomass include:

  • Crops
  • Dung
  • Wood chippings, which is, in fact, the most common form of biomass to be used.

This is by no means a new form of energy production; it had been noted 2,000-3,000 years ago by explorer Marco Polo, that the Chinese used covered sewage tanks to create biogas.

How does biomass create energy?

There are a number of ways in which Biomass can be used to create energy but the most common one is through combustion. When organic matter is burned, steam is released, which drives a turbine to generate electricity and heat.

Other methods include Anaerobic Digestion plants that break down biomass through the use of microorganisms in the absence of air within a tank.

What are the downsides of biomass?

Although biomass energy is renewable, the UK is currently importing millions of tonnes of wood pellets for biomass energy production.

In 2018 alone, 7.8 million tonnes of wood pellets were imported, 82% of which coming from Canada and the USA. Many biomass critics have labelled this unsustainable due to the use of emissions associated with transport and land use.

Unlike many other renewable energy sources, Biomass is not greenhouse gas emission-free.

Research commissioned by the UK government found that greenhouse gases generated from biomass can be lower or higher than those from fossil fuels per unit of electricity produced. This is due to varying factors such as the type of biomass and its origin.

The Future of Biomass

Don’t worry, all is not negative! Modern technologies are being developed to capture emissions during combustion, contributing to the UK’s long term emissions target that by 2050 there will be net-zero greenhouse gas emissions.

Who is using biomass?

The UK’s largest power station, Drax has been paving the way for a coal-free future with two-thirds of its power units upgraded from coal to biomass. Drax power station supplies 12% of the UK’s renewable power.

Earlier this year Drax launched a pilot project to capture carbon dioxide from its flue gas, which had previously been seen as too expensive.

There are various other biomass power stations across the UK or currently under construction such as the World’s largest biomass plant being built in the North East.

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