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Energy and Global Climate Change in New England

Biomass Energy

Photo from Biomass Energy Resource Center
Photo from Biomass Energy Resource Center

Biomass derived from organic materials, including wood and crops, as well as wastes from consumer, municipal and agricultural processes, can be used to generate heat and electricity. Biomass fuels encompass a broad range of solids, gases, and liquids that result from living organisms or from the wastes and by-products of human activities.

Biomass energy is considered environmentally friendly because it comes from renewable resources such as plants, and often produces heat or electricity with less harmful environmental impacts than energy from traditional fossil fuels such as coal.

Biomass energy is commonly used in the following applications:

  • Electricity production
  • Heat generation
  • Transportation fuel

Fuels and Applications

Cofiring: Cofiring refers to using a mixture of biomass and fossil fuels. This decreases reliance on fossil fuel and helps reduce emissions.

Landfill and Digester Gas: Methane is a potent greenhouse gas, more than 20 times more able to trap heat in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide. It is also the main component of natural gas, a primary fuel for electricity generation in New England. Additionally, the decomposition of organic matter in landfills and wastewater treatment plants produces significant amounts of methane as a byproduct. Collecting methane for fuel serves as a cost effective means of generating power or heat by using what would otherwise just be vented to the atmosphere.

Photo from Biomass Energy Resource Center
Photo from Biomass Energy Resource Center
Biomass Gasification: Gasification of biomass is a newer technology that is gaining traction as a means to produce energy from biofuels. Gasifiers are a much cleaner technology than traditional biomass combustion systems, and they are more efficient, resulting in more power generated for each ton of biomass consumed. In a gasification system, biomass (wood or other solid plant matter) is heated to high temperatures (600-800 °C) and converted to a gas made up of hydrogen, carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, water vapor, and methane. This is then used to generate heat and power.

Finally, while biomass and biogas are renewable fuels, they can be stored and dispatched like conventional fuels such as natural gas or coal.

Additional Resources

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