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Creating Energy with Biomass

Biomass is any organic material. Converting biomass to sustainable energy is a carbon-neutral process because, although burning or otherwise processing the material releases carbon, new organic material can be planted to replace what’s consumed, and that new material consumes carbon. Biomass can be trees, wood chips, pulp sludge from wood-processing facilities, agricultural crops, animal manure, and even organic waste.

Biomass can be utilized in many different ways; some of the more common examples:

  • Burned to produce heat, steam, and electricity for communities.

  • Processed into gas, synthetic fuel oil, methane, ethanol, biodiesel, or methanol, which then can be used to power vehicles and other machinery, including generators.

  • Used to create products usually made from petroleum products, including clothing and plastics.

Biomass already provides approximately three percent of the energy used in the United States, and it has the potential to provide much more. If it consists of waste, it has the added benefit of turning trash into energy; if it consists of agricultural crops, it can benefit farmers economically. Experts caution, however, that growing crops specifically for biomass applications could end up competing with space needed for food crops, so sources of agricultural biomass need to be carefully considered and balanced. Using waste products is the greenest form of biomass production.

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