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Biomass Energy Basics (Text Version)

This is the text version of the video "Biomass Energy Basics."

Biomass. It sounds complicated, but really, it's simple!

Biomass can be defined as any organic material or waste that contains chemical building blocks like carbon, hydrogen, and other components that are vital to our modern energy and materials economy. Biomass is the single largest supply of carbon on planet earth and is a sustainable and renewable source for the products that are currently made from petroleum. Here's how it goes from waste to watts.

Trees and plants absorb energy from the sun through photosynthesis. The energy is trapped inside until the organic material is converted into other products that are used as sources of energy and materials.

There are several kinds of biomass such as agricultural residues, purpose-grown energy crops, and wood.

For hundreds of thousands of years, humans have used wood, or charcoal made from wood, for fuel to heat homes and cook food.

To make bioenergy from wood, scraps or sawdust can be collected from farms and forestry manufacturers. There are several ways to convert biomass into usable energy. It can even be turned into fuels to power cars, trucks, and airplanes!

To make fuels, wood is converted first to an intermediary gas or liquid that can be upgraded to make a final product such as gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel. It's almost like putting a tree trunk in your gasoline tank!

Biomass also includes wastes, and there are processes that work for many types of waste biomass, like animal waste. That's right, poop! Believe it or not, poop can be used to make electricity.

Manure from farm animals, mostly cows, is put into a big tank called a digester. Like your own gut, a digester has bacteria that eats waste and turns it into methane gas. The methane is burned to heat water, and the water creates steam, the steam creates pressure that spins a rotor inside a turbine, the turbine powers a generator and the generator produces electricity. That's it!

Methane can also be captured from landfills. When biomass decomposes it emits a gaseous product called bio-gas. Bio-gas is rich in methane and after some cleanup and upgrading, the methane gas can be captured and burned in the same process to make electricity or to heat your home and cook your food.

Biomass can also be used to make products like polymers and plastics that are made from renewable sources of carbon and are either recyclable or biodegradable. This will help solve the problem of plastic waste.

Yes, biomass isn't so glamorous, but it is a clean, renewable source of energy and materials that are essential to our modern society.

Who knew waste could be a powerhouse?

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