Monday, October 02, 2006

Biomass Energy

Hi - hope youre well.

I had promised in an earlier posting to talk about biomass energy so here goes:

Biomass Energy - Biomass is a collective term for all plant and animal material. A number of different forms of biomass can be burned or digested to produce energy. Examples include wood, straw, poultry litter (chicken poop is a good one) and energy crops such as willow and poplar grown on short rotation coppice system (fast growing so they can be coppiced every 3 - 4 years) and miscanthus (perennial grass - also switch-grass - producing a high yield of dry matter).

Biomass is a very versatile material and can be used to produce heat (for space and water heating), electricity and a combination of heat and power (electricity). The UK has some of the largest examples of the use of Biomass to generate electricity in Europe.

Energy from Wood:

In order not to increase the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere it is important that the wood burned as a fuel comes from sustainable sources. This means that as trees are felled to be use as a fuel, more trees should be planted. That way, the carbon released during the combustion of the wood is reabsorded by the new trees growing and the process is carbon neutral. Other examples of sustainable sources of wood include forest residues (what is left over after timber has been extracted), tree surgery waste and other wood residue.

Wood can then be used as logs, wood chip and wood pellets in wood/pellet burning stoves or wood chip/pellet boilers for space and water heating.

I was at a friend's house on Friday evening and she has a wood burning stove which I love to build up and create. Within half an hour of the fire starting we were both asleep on sofas in her lounge - such was the cosy atmosphere, the smell of the fire, the comforting warmth and the crackling of the logs (plus the champagne we had had before dinner!). The next house that I buy will have a log burning or bio mass stove - they are fabulous. And I will plant new trees to make up the balance and only use logs farmed for purpose from sustainable sources just as my friend does now.

Other bio mass sources are agricultural waste products and municipal and industrial waste products. However many of these products need outlets for the heat they can produce so that they can be economically viable. Moreover, some forms of municipal and industrial waste can be described as biomass - such as waste food and waste wood (from the construction industry, for example). Whether the burning of other types of municipal waste to produce energy can be described as "renewable" is a matter of some debate. There can be environmental benefits if these wastes are used to generate electricity and/or heat such as the reduction of the demand for landfill space. However care has to be taken with emissions and residues as they can cause environmental issues.

So chicken poop, logs, wood pellets or dry grass then anyone? If someone could create a form of anaerobic digestion to convert cat poo into methane to run a gas stove or heating system I know most of my current neighbours would be almost totally carbon neutral with a seemingly never ending supply base!

From Your Friend The Energy Angel


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