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Biomass energy

Source: U.S. Department of Energy

 

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 activity.

Buying Clean Electricity

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