Thursday, January 19, 2012

Biomass Energy and Its Environmental Benefits

Biomass energy is having so many benefits for the environment such as reducing air and water pollution, increasing soil fertility and reducing erosion, and improvement of the wildlife habitat.

Carbon Cycle

Carbon cycle is a way of nature for moving carbon around the Earth to support life on it. Carbon dioxide gas is the most common carbon item in which one carbon atom is bound with two oxygen atoms.

Photosynthesis in the plant’s leaves breaks the carbon dioxide in to two, which keeps the carbon for making carbohydrates, and oxygen is exhaled in the air. So when plant dies or it is harvested for burning then it gives back the carbon to air, and that carbon is absorbed again by plants.

While on other hand fossil fuels are made of plants millions of years ago through organic changes. The carbon, which was absorbed by those plants that time, is being emitted now by fossil fuels burning. As there are no extra plants to absorb that carbon that’s why the cycle becomes out of cycle.

If we look the picture below we can see clearly there are two different carbon cycles working one is the natural one between plants and air and perfectly balanced. Second one is human made cycle in which carbon is gained from Earth and emitted into the atmosphere.

Environmental Benefits

As part of the carbon cycle biomass reduces air pollution as shown in the above picture. It reduces carbon dioxide emissions up to 90 percent as compared to fossil fuels. While Sulfur dioxide and other pollutants are also reduced significantly.

It reduces water pollution also as fewer fertilizers and pesticides are used to grow energy crops, and erosion is reduced. Agricultural researchers in Iowa had discovered that planting grass and poplar trees in buffers along waterways can capture the runoff from corn fields and streams will become cleaner.

Food crops extracts the nutrients from the soil while on other hand energy crops improves soil’s quality. Prairie grasses are having deep roots and puts nitrogen and other nutrients in the soil. As Prairie grasses can be replanted every 10 years because of that soil gets minimal plowing that causes soil to erode.

In simple words biomass crops are better for wildlife habitat than the food crops. As they are the native plants so it attracts a variety of birds and mammals. It also improves the habitat for fish by increasing water quality in nearby streams and ponds. Unlike food crops, energy crops are having long time for being harvested and energy crops can be timed to avoid critical nesting or breeding seasons.

All above-mentioned benefits are described in comparison with food crops such as corn, wheat, and soybeans. But comparing with undisturbed natural habitat energy crops is not as good.

But best thing about biomass is that it is much closer to the natural world rather than the modern industrial agriculture.

Harvesting Prairie grasses is not so much different than the fires that sporadically swept across the plains. May be the plantation of poplar and maple trees wont same as varied forests, but are certainly closer than pesticide-laden monocrops.

Anyhow the environmental benefits of the biomass centers on the point that the energy crops will be managed with sustainable agricultural practices. As using chemical inputs increases food crops productivity if it will be done for energy crops then the consequences will be adverse. If biomass energy shows unforeseen environmental effects then it will be better to alter those methods for reducing the effects.

Bottom Line

Aside from the environmental benefits, biomass energy is also having economic and energy security benefits. For example if we grow our fuels at home then we can reduce the need to import oil and also can reduce our exposure to disruptions in that supply.

Because of biomass energy usage, farmers and rural areas will be having new outlets for their products.

In United States, biomass is already supporting 66,000 jobs and if the dream of the DOE became true then that figure will get three times more.


  1. I am very impressed to know the advantages of biomass energy. It’s rea;;y economic and security benefits are impressive.
    Power Plant Maintenance

  2. Using RentalCars you can get the cheapest car hire at over 49000 international locations.