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Can Biomass Be Used For Transportation (Explained)

As fuel prices continue to rise, experts in the transport industry are looking for alternative energy sources for powering vehicles. 

Besides, less than 20% of petroleum energy converts into mechanical power, meaning gasoline is not a sustainable energy source for transportation.

One of the most recommended alternatives to gasoline (petroleum) is biomass.

This post explains whether or not biomass can be used for transportation. Read on to find out more!

Can Biomass Be Used for Transportation?

Yes, biomass can be used for transportation. Biomass is a renewable organic fuel derived from plants and animal waste to produce heat and electricity. According to a study by Oregon State University, the electricity generated from biomass is sufficient to power battery-driven vehicles and electric cars.

As the world grapples with high fuel prices and increased carbon emissions, biomass has emerged as the energy of choice for transportation in many developed countries. 

This versatile renewable energy easily converts into liquid transportation fuels equivalent to diesel, jet fuel, and gasoline.

The conversion of biomass to liquid fuels is a multistep process that includes biomass pretreatment, gasification, syngas purification, Fischer-Tropsch synthesis, and hydroprocessing.

Once the conversion process is complete, biomass turns into biofuel, which is ideal for transportation applications.

Although we can use biomass for transportation, advanced biofuel technology is still in the early stages (pilot phase) and is yet to be commercially established.

Can Biofuel Be Used in Transportation?

Yes, biofuel can be used in transportation, but it first needs to be converted from biomass into liquid fuel to power battery-driven, petrol-fueled vehicles with internal combustion engines.

Biofuels used in transportation are generated through biochemical and thermochemical processes.

In many cases, biofuels are not used alone for transportation applications but blended with other traditional fuels like diesel and petrol.

An excellent example of a biofuel that can be used unblended in transportation is biobutanol, which is generated through bacterial fermentation.

Other examples of biofuels used for sustainable transportation applications include:

  • Ethanol
  • Methanol
  • Methane
  • Bioethanol
  • Biodiesel
  • Biocrude

Can Biomass Be Used in Cars?

Yes, biomass can be used in cars but not in its natural form.

This organic fuel is rich in hydrogen, cellulose, furan, and other compounds that can be extracted through biochemical and thermochemical processes and used to produce energy (biofuels) to power cars and meet our transportation needs.

According to various studies, biomass delivers more miles than traditional fuels like diesel and gasoline.

Moreover, it is an abundant and renewable energy source, meaning it won’t become depleted like fossil fuels.

The only challenge with biomass is converting it into a useful form of energy ideal for transportation.

Learn more: Do Solar Panels Use Fossil Fuels?

How Would Biomass Affect Transportation?

Biomass affects transportation both positively and negatively, but the positive impact outweighs the few shortcomings.

As transport experts search for cleaner, renewable energy sources, biomass has emerged as a viable alternative to fossil-based fuels like gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel.

Biomass also helps reduce the over-reliance on petroleum products used in the transportation industry.

Most importantly, biomass is essential in lowering the carbon footprint and improving the adverse greenhouse gas emissions profile associated with the transportation sector.

What is Biomass Used for?

Biomass is a renewable energy source with several applications, including:

  • Cooking 
  • Heating
  • Production
  • Transportation
  • Electricity generation

What are Examples of Biomass?

Excellent examples of biomass include:

  • Wood
  • Wood residues (sawdust, bark, shavings, chips, and slabs)
  • Energy crops (soybeans, corn, sugarcane, wheat straw, and sorghum)
  • Industrial, agricultural, and household waste
  • Municipal solid waste
  • Manure
  • Oil-rich algae
  • Treated sewage sludge
  • Food waste 

Read more: Can Biomass Energy Be Replaced?

What are the Advantages of Using Biomass?

  1. Clean, renewable energy source

Biomass is clean, renewable energy you can replenish immediately after use, unlike fossil fuels that become scarce over time.

Moreover, biomass is readily available, and you can obtain it from waste and other natural materials like plants and manure.

  1. Carbon neutral

Biomass is carbon neutral, meaning it only releases the same amount of carbon the plants absorb during their lifecycle.

New plants then absorb the released carbon from the atmosphere, reducing the impact of greenhouse gas emissions.

  1. Cheaper than fossil fuels

Biomass is cheaper than traditional energy sources (fossil fuels) as far as production is concerned.

Fossil fuel production depends on drilling oil, laying gas pipelines, and collecting fuels, which turns out to be an expensive process.

  1. Reduces the burden on landfills

Since biomass entails burning plant and animal waste, it can help reduce the burden on our landfills and dumping grounds.

Industrial, agricultural, and household waste materials do not have to make it to landfills since they are the primary source of biomass.

  1. Versatile energy source

Biomass is a versatile energy source with several applications, including heating, cooking, transportation, industrial production, and electricity generation.

What are the Limitations of Using Biomass?

  1. Not 100% clean

Even though biomass is carbon neutral, it is not entirely clean since it uses animal and human waste that escalates the release of methane gases, which is harmful to the environment.

Moreover, burning wood, plants, and other natural materials pollute the air and create potentially harmful emissions.

  1. Encourage possible deforestation

Since biomass relies on burning wood, wood residue, and shrubs, it can possibly encourage deforestation and lead to the extinction of wild animals that live on trees.

People need to replace every tree cut down for biomass production to prevent possible deforestation in the future.

  1. Long extraction process

Biomass production can be a long and time-consuming process compared to generating other renewable energy alternatives like water and solar.

How Effective is Biomass?

Biomass is as effective as fossil fuels but has more significant potential to lower carbon emissions by 78%.

According to various studies, researchers established that bioenergy production yields eight times more energy than absorbed, making biomass one of the most efficient and effective renewable energy sources.

What Countries Use Biomass?

Several countries use biomass as their primary energy source. These include:

  • Ethiopia
  • DR Congo
  • Tanzania
  • Nigeria
  • Haiti
  • Nepal
  • Kenya
  • Niger
  • Mozambique
  • Myanmar

Developed countries that use biomass energy include Sweden, Finland, Ireland, and the USA.

Final Thoughts

Biomass is a sustainable energy source for transportation. However, converting biomass into biofuels for commercial use is a significant challenge. Fortunately, research is ongoing on reducing the conversion process to establish bioenergy as the primary energy source for transportation.