Humans have been using biomass to produce heat through combustion for a long time. But of late, converting of biomass in biofuel has been gaining increasing popularity. Biomass energy or bio-fuels as this energy source is also called can be an excellent solution for our renewable and alternative energy needs. They can provide useful alternatives to fast depleting fuel sources particularly non-renewable fuels. They do however have their own limitations.
We look at what bio fuels are, what they can be useful for, and their advantages as well as their limitations.
What is biomass energy?
Biomass energy or biofuel is that which is sourced from recently living organisms; in other words from organic matter rather than fossil fuels. These fuels could be in solid, liquid or gaseous forms. Bio fuels include wood, manure, vegetable oils, sugar cane, corn, soybean, waste cooking oil, flaxseed, animal fats and so on.
Ethanol is among the most commonly used bio fuels and is obtainable from crops, garbage and so on. Another commonly used bio fuel is green diesel (bio-diesel) which is obtained from hydroracking animal fats, vegetable oils to produce fuel that has some of the same chemical properties as petroleum based diesel.
Benefits of biomass energy
The first advantage is of course that bio energy gives us a viable alternative to fossil fuels. Not only do fossil fuels create pollution, it is estimated that oil and petroleum will run out at some point, after which we will have to depend upon alternative energy sources. In many cases, bio fuels can be a cheap and effective alternative to conventional fuels.
Since it is produced from organic material, it is renewable in nature, so this energy source is not going to become depleted. It is also possible to turn trash and other waste such as animal dung and convert this into bio energy. So this is a renewable form of energy that can also help control and manage waste.
Limitations of biomass fuels
Biofuels have often been criticized for using up a lot of energy in the process of their production – so they defeat the purpose for which they are produced. More research and development needs to go into developing bio fuels before they can substantially replace conventional energy sources.
Another obvious criticism is the inadvisability of using biomass such as wood – using wood destroys forest cover and creates pollution.
The pollution and the green house gasses created in the production of bio fuels as well as their use is another problem. For instance, the creation of certain biomass fuels releases toxic gasses, burning wood and dung creates smoke that not only pollutes but could also lead to respiratory illnesses.