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What Can Biomass Be Converted Into?

Unlike non-renewable energy sources, biomass is carbon neutral and easy to replenish when it runs out.

Most importantly, we can convert biomass into other forms of energy, making it ideal for various applications.

This post discusses the different energy forms we can convert biomass into. Keep reading to discover more.

What Can Biomass Be Converted Into?

We can convert biomass into electricity, biofuels, biogas, and other valuable energy forms.

Biomass is also an integral component of various everyday products, such as cosmetics, perfumes, detergents, cleaning products, food additives, and nutritional supplements. 

However, biomass conversion into other energy forms can be complex since it entails various biochemical and thermochemical processes and procedures.

These processes include pyrolysis, co-firing, gasification, direct combustion, and anaerobic decomposition.

The reason for converting biomass into other energy forms is to make it more efficient, yield more energy, and prevent wastage.

What Are The Types of Biomass That Can Be Converted?

There are four main types of biomass that we can convert into alternative energy. These  include:

  • Solid waste – Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) is a primary source of biomass. It includes commercial and residential waste such as garbage, rubber, paper shreddings, yard trimmings, food waste, and textiles. MSW has to undergo cleansing and various treatments before using it as bioenergy.
  • Landfill gas – Biomass can be converted into various gases such as biomethane and biogas through gasification. These gases contain hydrogen, carbon dioxide, and carbon monoxide.
  • Wood and agricultural products – wood and agricultural products account for over 50% of biomass used today. These include sawdust, chips, bark, corn, logs, sugarcane, straw, grass, and sunflower, among many others.
  • Animal waste – animal wastes (such as droppings) are the ideal sources of biogas and other alternative energy

What Are The Ways Biomass Is Converted To Energy?

Ways to convert biomass into energy include:

  • Direct combustion
  • Biological conversion (fermentation and anaerobic digestion)
  • Thermochemical conversion (pyrolysis, hydrotreating, and gasification)
  • Chemical conversion or transesterification

Direct combustion is the most common method of converting biomass into energy. 

It entails burning plant and animal waste directly in fire for heating, cooking, electricity generation, and industrial processes.

Biological conversion involves using bacteria, enzymes, and other microorganisms to break down biomass into biogas, ethanol, and other liquid fuels.

Thermochemical conversion uses heat and chemicals to convert biomass into biogas, bio-oil, and biofuels such as diesel, hydrogen, and methane.

Chemical conversion entails using chemicals to convert vegetable oil, grease, and animal fat into fatty acid methyl esters.

What Are Examples of Biomass?

Excellent examples of biomass include:

  • Wood and wood residue such as logs, sawdust, chips, and bark
  • Crops and plants such as corn, sunflower, soybeans, algae, sugarcane, and straw
  • Animal droppings and manure
  • Kitchen garbage
  • Commercial and residential waste (Municipal Solid Waste)
  • Black liquor from pulp mills
  • Biogas from processed fuels
  • Charcoal and briquette

Learn more: Can Biomass Energy Be Stored?

What Is The Most Common Biomass Material?

The most common biomass material is wood, which accounts for over 53% of organic matter used to produce bioenergy.

Over 11% of households in the United States use wood and wood products for space and water heating.

The percentage is higher in developing countries as wood is the preferred energy source for cooking, heating, and industrial purposes.

Examples of wood products used as biomass include logs, sawdust, wood pellets, chips, barks, sawmill waste, black liquor from pulp, lumber, and woody plants.

What Products Can Be Made From Biomass?

The top five products that can be made from biomass include:

Cosmetics

Cosmetics, perfumes, deodorants, shampoos, creams, and other personal care products contain bio-based resources, like fermented plant sugars and saturated fatty acids.

Fuels

A large percentage of gasoline contains biofuels such as ethanol and biodiesel, which are extracted from plant materials. Close to 98% of gasoline is a blend of biomass and regular fuels.

Detergents and cleaning products

Detergents, washing soaps, and cleaning products contain biomass compounds. Potent organic substances such as furan are renowned for their stain removal properties and can prove helpful when added to cleaning products.

Food additives

Biomass resources like algae contain a high percentage of oil and omega-3 fatty acids, which are ideal for making food additives and nutritional supplements. Ligin from plants is also a suitable ingredient for food flavors.

Learn more: 7 Harmful Products to the environment and alternatives

Plastic and clothing fibers

Bioforming technology can be used to convert plant materials into biobased plastic and fabric. Many companies are opting for biobased plastic to help conserve the environment and preserve natural resources.

How Does Biomass Convert To Gas?

Converting biomass into gas involves various thermochemical processes, including gasification and pyrolysis.

These processes use heat and chemical reactions to break down biomass into synthesis gas.

Gasification involves using heat, controlled steam, and oxygen to break down organic materials and produce hydrogen and carbon monoxide.

Pyrolysis involves heating biomass in pressurized vessels (while limiting oxygen) to produce hydrogen gas and liquid fuels.

What Is Biochemical Conversion of Biomass?

Biochemical conversion of biomass entails using bacteria, enzymes, and other microorganisms to convert biomass into alternative energy.

The most predominant biochemical conversion processes include fermentation and anaerobic digestion.

Anaerobic digestion is the decomposition of organic matter into gas and liquid fuels, while fermentation breaks down biomass into monomer sugars before converting them into alcohol fuels.

Other biochemical biomass conversion processes include enzymatic hydrolysis and biomethanation.

How Is Biomass Renewable?

Biomass is renewable since it comes from organic matter from plants and animal waste that is easily replenishable and replaceable.

Plants absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, convert it into biomass, and release into back when they die, and the cycle begins again.

Its inherent energy originates from the sun and we can replenish bioenergy produced from plants and wood by cultivating new crops and planting trees.

How Do You Make Biomass Energy?

Biomass energy is produced through four different methods, including:

  • Direct combustion
  • Biological conversion
  • Thermochemical processes
  • Chemical processes

Final Thoughts

Unlike wind or solar, biomass is the only renewable energy that can be converted into liquid fuels and gas. You can use the converted energy for various applications, including heating, cooking, transportation, and industrial purposes.