Biomass Energy Facts – Earth Science

Biomass is any waste that comes from plants and animals including humans. Because it is created naturally and doesn’t have to be created artificially, it is a renewable energy.

Biomass can be converted into biofuel or biogas, which can be burned as fuel. The technology to do this is already available and is used on small-scale projects but not yet on a large-scale, citywide production.

Biomass Plant

Types of Biomass

Wood in any form and waste materials from processing lumber, such as chips and sawdust can be burned to produce heat for private homes or industry. As well, the burning of this waste material can be converted to produce electricity.

Waste from agricultural crops, such as straw and vegetation left after the produce has been harvested from any crop that has to be planted annually can be burned as fuel or converted to biofuel.

Food scraps and yard waste can be burned and used in power plants or converted into biogas from refuse in landfills.

Farm animal manure and human sewage can be converted to biogas.

Wood Pellets

How is biomass converted to energy?

Any biomass can be burned to produce heat or converted to biogas or biofuel. Biogas from farm animal manure, sewage, garbage, paper, wood waste, yard wastes, and food decomposes and is processed and collected in containers called digesters. The product can then be used as fuel.

When corn and sugarcane is fermented, ethanol is produced, which can be used in vehicles instead of gasoline. Biodiesel can be made from vegetable oils and/or animal fats and can be used in diesel engines and as oil for heating.


For most of our history on earth, people have been using the burning of biomass for heat. In some parts of the world, especially undeveloped countries, biomass is the only source of heat and fire for cooking.

There are many sources of biomass that can be used if converted to biogas or biofuel. Waste branches and stumps from deforestation, agricultural waste material, sugarcane and bamboo crop waste, sewage, and solid wastes can all be used instead of discarded and left to decompose.

Today only 10% of the energy needed around the world is produced by the use of biomass. The other 90% is supplied by fossil fuels.

Algae biomass from the oceans could be fermented to produce an excellent source of biofuel, such as ethanol, butanol, methane, biodiesel, and hydrogen. Algae-based fuels can be made much faster (up to 10 times faster) than using land and agricultural waste.

Biomass energy produces a small amount of carbon when burned as fuel but it is reabsorbed by new growing crops. Fossil fuels only emit carbon into the atmosphere and can never reabsorb what is produced.


California has the largest biomass power station in the world and is located just north of San Francisco. It is called the Geysers Geothermal Complex and is made up of 18 power plants.

Biomass energy reduces acid rain and smog caused by pollutants because when biofuel or biogas is burned it does not emit sulphur or mercury into the air.

Developing biomass energy could help a country eliminate the need for fossil fuel that is imported from foreign oil producers today. What is needed are aggressive and concentrated efforts by governments to promote and give incentives to companies to produce biomass energy on a grand scale. The technology to do so is already perfected.


  1. What is biomass?
  2. What is biofuel?
  3. Name three biofuel products.
  4. Where is the world’s largest biomass power plant?
  5. What is so important about using biogas and biofuel?



  1. Biomass is waste that comes from plants, animals, and humans.
  2. Biofuel is produced when biomass is burned.
  3. Examples of biofuel are methane, ethanol, and biodiesel.
  4. Just north of San Francisco, California is the world’s largest biomass power facility and has 18 power plants.
  5. Being able to use biogas and biofuel will eliminate the need for fossil fuels.

Earth Science