Biomass is material from living or recently living things, including humans! All biomass has energy stored within it, and this energy is called biomass energy or bioenergy. Depending on the plant or animal and the way they are processed, we can convert bioenergy into electricity, fuels and more. 

Malodorous methane (smelly gas!)

What it is

Methane gas is a greenhouse gas. In fact, it has 21 times more of a greenhouse gas effect than carbon dioxide. It plays a big role in global warming. It smells rotten!

Why does my banana stink?

Ever left a banana at the bottom of your school bag? If it starts to rot and begins to smell bad, it’s releasing methane. Whenever biomass decomposes in the absence of oxygen, tiny microbes living on it give off methane.

Why we should use it

Capturing and using methane is an important clean energy solution, as it stops this strong greenhouse gas from entering the atmosphere. Biogas from decomposing organic matter contains a high proportion of methane along with other gases such as carbon dioxide (CO2)

Ewww…

Gases from human sewage can produce energy. In the Sydney suburb of Cronulla, the water authority is capturing methane from treated sewage to generate electricity.

Methane is a greenhouse gas considered 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide.

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Turning bioenergy into electricity

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Organic matter such as plant cuttings or landfill is fed into a drying chamber via a conveyer belt.

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Once the matter is dry, it moves through to a combustion chamber where air is added to help it burn.

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As the biomass burns the heat changes water to steam. Carbon dioxide is released by the burning process but the process is considered carbon dioxide neutral.

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The biomass is burned producing heat. That heat is then used to create steam to turn turbines that produce electricity. 

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Fossil fuels are no longer the only, the best or even the cheapest solution to our energy demands.

Using biofuels

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Did you know that sugar cane and corn aren’t only foods? Because of their high sucrose or sugar content, they can also be grown to make biofuels. Tiny organisms feed on the sucrose and convert it to ethanol. 

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Oils from plants and animals can be used as biofuels. During the last century, before elecitric lights, oil from the blubber of giant sperm whales was used to light lamps.

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Bioethanol and biodiesel are the two main types of biofuels, and they can be used as replacements for normal petrol and diesel. Ethanol is most commonly blended with petrol and used to used to power cars and other vehicles.

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Biofuels can help reduce our reliance on fossil fuels for transport and as such, help lower the amount of carbon dioxide in our environment. They’re considered to be ‘carbon dioxide neutral’.

Sustainable bioenergy is an important issue in the renewable energy mix.

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Wrap up

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All living matter, including plants and animals, have energy within them. This energy can be transformed and used to power our lives.

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When living matter decomposes in the absence of oxygen, it releases methane. This harmful greenhouse gas can actually be captured and converted into useful forms of energy.

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Bioenergy is considered a clean energy. It helps to prevent harmful methane from entering the atmosphere, and it is renewable.

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Biofuels, which can be created from plant and animal matter, provide a clean energy alternative to other fuels used in the transport industry.