Why Is Biomass A Better Alternative To Fossil Fuels? [Benefits & Applications]

Energy is at the center of each and every human activity in the modern world. From switching on the heater in the morning to turning off the lights at night, from cooking food to running industries, energy has established itself as the currency of life.

Energy generation witnessed a paradigm shift with the Industrial Revolution as the world was introduced to fossil fuels.

Today, fossil fuels are responsible for a mammoth 82 percent of power demand worldwide, according to the bp Statistical Review of World Energy.

However, with accelerating climate change and depleting natural resources, it is time for civilization to turn the tide with biomass energy.

What Are Fossil Fuels?

Fossil fuels are fossilized organic remains that have been naturally subjected to time, temperature and pressure. Fossil fuel formation is a geological process that takes a long time, even up to millions of years.

They are non-renewable sources that are extracted and readily burnt to produce energy.

Coal, one of the earliest fossil fuels, was used to smelt iron ore, while petroleum and natural gas were explored and exploited in the last couple of centuries.

Fossil fuels are responsible for a number of resources such as electricity, fuel for transportation, cosmetics, paints, etc.

What Are The Consequences Of Fossil Fuels?

Although fossil fuels are a driving force of modernization they are not without their drawbacks.

One-fifth of global deaths are caused due to air pollution brought about by the processing and consumption of fossil fuels. A Harvard University researcher discovered that fossil fuel pollution killed almost 9 million people in 2018 alone.

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The generation of nitric acids and sulfuric acids from the combustion of fossil fuels has a devastating impact on nature in the form of acidic rains.

The generation of energy by burning coal releases vast amounts of radioactive material such as uranium and thorium into the air.

Aquatic ecosystems such as fish and other organisms are endangered through offshore oil drilling, while land and air ecosystems are endangered through coal mining.

All these consequences fade away at the thought of the depletion of fossil fuels altogether.

Will Fossil Fuels Deplete Sooner Than We Think?

Due to the non-renewable nature of fossil fuels, they will inevitably be exhausted and civilization will be forced to explore more options.

Energy Policy, an international journal published an article stating that the earth would run out of oil and gas by 2042, leaving coal to be exhausted by 2117.

Another recent publication from Stanford University has concluded that we would run out of all fossil fuels by as early as 2090.

Though these estimates will be tested in the near future, a clearer picture can’t be painted about the extinction of fossil fuels.

What is Biomass?

Among many alternatives to conventional fossil fuel energy, biomass seems to be the most promising and sustainable renewable energy source in modern times.

Biomass energy is generated from resources that come from living things such as wood and agricultural waste.

Trees and plants are formed by absorbing and isolating carbons from the air by photosynthesis. The same carbons are discharged into the atmosphere when these trees die and rot.

This energy cycle is intercepted and the carbons are used productively before they are released in nature.

Biomass is also converted into a usable energy source by burning biomass, bacterial decay, fermentation, and conversion.

What Are The Benefits Of Biomass?

Frequency of Renewability

The primary difference between fossil fuels and biomass is that fossil fuels take millions of years for their formation while biomass takes exponentially less time period for generation and regeneration.

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Ease of Availability

Biomass is the only renewable resource that occurs in solid, liquid, and gaseous states, readily available on the surface of the earth.

When compared to fossil fuels that have to be explored deep under the earth or the sea, biomass is much easier to access and process.

Carbon Neutrality

It is scientifically established that biomass fuel mitigates global warming to a great degree as they release a fractional amount of carbon into the air when processed and consumed.

Economic Feasibility

The ease of availability and low cost of exploration makes biomass ⅓ times more economical than fossil fuels to produce equal energy. The use of biomass energy does not need the consumer to make a huge initial capital investment.

Versatile Utility

Biomass energy can be utilized to produce electricity, heating gas, biochemicals, and biodiesel, among a plethora of options that make it one of the most versatile forms of renewable energy.

Reduction of Fossil Fuel Dependency

The possibilities arising from biomass energy will gradually reduce the global dependency on fossil fuels. Further research and development in the field of biomass energy will ensure that fossil fuel is not the only option on planet earth.

What Are The Use Cases of Biomass Energy?

Fuel

The most prevalent use of biomass energy is its utility in the form of fuel.

The methods to convert biomass to fuel are either fermentation or anaerobic digestion which produces methane (biogas), ethanol, and biodiesel. In fact, ninety-eight percent of gasoline in America contains ethanol which is converted from biomass.

Biomass can also substitute coal as fuel in thermal power plants for electricity generation.

Fertilizer

Biomass has shown great efficiency in its use as a fertilizer. In a recent research article, Algal biomass has proven to be capable of substituting mineral fertilizers.

Biochar, another prevalent biomass fertilizer, enriches the soil and entraps carbon in it.

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Biodegradable Plastic

Also known as bioplastic, biodegradable plastics are made from biomass resources such as plant-derived materials.

Displaying strength and quality equal to polystyrene, bioplastics are carbon-neutral and environmentally friendly as compared to conventional plastic.

Conclusion

Today, biomass has found great relevance and acceptance in a number of fields.

Energy generation has seen a transformation where wood, biodiesel, and biogas have replaced coal.

Biomass has shown promising applications in the field of manufacturing as well.

Fertilization has become more natural and eco-friendly due to biochar and livestock waste.

Pollution and emissions caused by fossil fuels are reduced in the case of biomass energy while health issues will fade away, increasing the quality of life on earth.

Biomass energy has surpassed wind and solar power in the quest for renewable energy resources.

Biomass has also seen global acceptance as governments are establishing measures to ensure the generation of green energy.

It is clearly evident that as we move forward, biomass will establish itself as the primary renewable energy resource on planet earth.

References

  • American Associates, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. (2020, March 10). Biomass fuels can significantly mitigate global warming. Science Daily. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/03/200310094244.htm
  • Ethanol fuel basics. (n.d.). Energy.gov. Retrieved January 16, 2023, from https://afdc.energy.gov/fuels/ethanol_fuel_basics.html
  • Mau, L., Kant, J., Walker, R., Kuchendorf, C. M., Schrey, S. D., Roessner, U., & Watt, M. (2021). Wheat can access phosphorus from algal biomass as quickly and continuously as from mineral fertilizer. Frontiers in Plant Science, 12, 631314. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpls.2021.631314
  • Shafiee, S., & Topal, E. (2009). When will fossil fuel reserves be diminished? Energy Policy, 37(1), 181–189. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.enpol.2008.08.016
  • Vohra, K., Vodonos, A., Schwartz, J., Marais, E. A., Sulprizio, M. P., & Mickley, L. J. (2021). Global mortality from outdoor fine particle pollution generated by fossil fuel combustion: Results from GEOS-Chem. Environmental Research, 195(110754), 110754. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.envres.2021.110754
  • When fossil fuels run out, what then? (2019, May 24). MAHB. https://mahb.stanford.edu/library-item/fossil-fuels-run/
  • (N.d.). Www.bp.com. Retrieved January 16, 2023, from https://www.bp.com/content/dam/bp/business-sites/en/global/corporate/pdfs/energy-economics/statistical-review/bp-stats-review-2022-full-report.pdf