How Biomass Energy Works
Biomass (organic matter) is already this country's leading non-hydro
renewable energy resource, and accounts for more than 7,000 megawatts of
the electricity produced in the United States.
Most of the electricity generated using biomass today is produced by
burning primarily waste wood products generated by the agriculture and
wood-processing industries. These feedstocks are burned to produce steam,
which is used to spin a turbine. The spinning turbine activates a
generator, which produces electricity. Many coal-fired power plants add
biomass to their coal-burning process (i.e. co-firing) to reduce the
emissions produced by burning the coal.
Gasification systems are a new way to generate electricity from
biomass. These systems use high temperatures and an oxygen-starved
environment to convert biomass directly into gas. The gas is burned in a
gas turbine, which spins an electric generator.
The decay of biomass in landfills produces gas (primarily methane)
naturally, which can then be harvested and burned in a boiler to produce
steam to generate electricity.
How Biomass Energy is Used
Homeowners often burn biomass (wood) to heat their homes, while power
generators and certain industries use biomass to produce electricity and
process heat. Our Buying
Clean Electricity section provides information on buying electricity
generated from biomass and other renewable resources in your state.
In addition to electricity and heat, biomass can be used to produce
transportation fuels like ethanol. For more information on using biomass
to produce ethanol, check out the Alternative Fuels Data Center's page on Ethanol.
Where Biomass Energy is Used
Producing electricity from biomass is most cost effective if biomass power
plants are located near biomass feedstocks. Biomass resources are abundant
across the eastern half of the United States, and thus, the majority of
operating biomass power plants are located in eastern half of the United
States. The future use of dedicated feedstock crops can broaden the
resource availability to all regions with agricultural production