Renewable energy production with biomass

Biomass is used to generate power for a municipality in a biomass power plant. Bioenergy (biomass energy, biofuel, biogas) is also produced from organic material in the gasification process, or bioenergy can also be produced in an anaerobic digester; from organic material such as farm waste. Biomass power plants are also sometimes used in parallel with on-site combined heat and power plants. Biomass can be derived from numerous types of organic plants, in addition to waste or wood. Crops like corn, wheat, soybean, sugarcane, and sorghum, are all sources for 1st generation biomass/ biofuel production (just to name a few sources). Forestry by-products and woodland matter like wood chips, peat, bark; as well as agricultural waste; and plants grown as energy crops like switchgrass, hemp, poplar, palm, and other lignocellulosic plants, are used in 2nd gen biomass/ biofuel production. Algae represents a promising 3rd gen renewable energy source for biofuel production.

An application of biomass energy with several benefits is waste-to-energy, such as landfill waste burned for energy in power plants; which puts garbage to good use, and cuts down on the size of dumps. Also among the many existing sustainable technologies which can be used effectively for biomass energy production are gasification and anaerobic digestion- technologies which convert biomass material and viable landfill gasses (LFGs), such as methane, into a usable source of energy. Landfill gases can be captured and then processed into synthetic natural gas (SNG). Bio-SNG is produced by gasification of cellulosic sources like forestry by-products and energy crops; ‘biogas’ is produced by anaerobic digestion of organic material such as farm waste.

These processes using organic material sources readily found in agricultural sites, rural environments, urban environments, etc…are renewable bioenergetic production methods with potential energy production for the locality where the bioenergetic material is sourced, energy production to run generators in power plants; and/ or these biomass sources can be harnessed to supply energy to municipal grids. (Please also see: anaerobic digestion – a proven solution to our waste problem – for more on putting waste to good use in creating renewable energy). Another category of biomass energy, biofuel (discussed below), represents an energy source which is being applied with greater global frequency in modern transportation.

types of biofuels


Biofuels are broken down into two types: ethanol and biodiesel. 1st generation biomass/ biofuel is made from: corn, wheat, barley, soybean, sorghum, sugar beet, and sugarcane – starchy crops that are fermented to create ethanol. Ethanol can also be produced from 2nd generation, cellulosic biomass, such as switchgrass, wood chips, straw, stover, and rice hulls. These are just some of the many cellulosic plants and organic materials that can readily be converted into sugars and then fermented into ethanol. The 3rd generation of biofuel, represented by algae, is discussed below in this article.

A small level (5-10%) of ethanol can be blended with standard gas to make an effective gasoline with less environmental impact (this type of gas is used in many first world nations). Just this relatively low level of ethanol blended in fuel for vehicles decreases air pollution compared with 100% fossil fuel gasoline or diesel. A fuel known as E-85- 85% ethanol and 15% gasoline, is gaining popularity throughout the world. There are many grades of ethanol-based biofuel, from E-5 and E-10, to E-100.

Please also see:

Cellulosic biofuel – fuel solutions

Both ethanol-based biofuel, and biodiesel, are put to great use in transportation vehicles throughout countries such as Sweden, Brazil, Finland, Italy, and Ireland, just to mention a few. Biodiesel is derived from animal fats, vegetable oil, and other lipids; which are processed with chemicals or alcohol. Kitchen oil is most the commonly used oil for processing into biodiesel. Biodiesel can then be mixed with traditional hydrocarbon-based diesel (i.e. B-2, B-5, B-20) or used as a clean fuel replacement for diesel (B-100). The US, Germany, France, Brazil, and Argentina, are the biggest producers of biodiesel in the world. The future of biodiesel lies in using promising, emerging sources such as algae. A large part of algae’s weight is in the form of lipids, making it ideal for biofuel. Often, over half of algae’s weight is extractable plant-based oil, to produce the oil needed for biofuel.

Biofuels for aviation

Biofuel is used in transportation, including aviation and shipping on a substantial level; both as the primary fuel source for transportation vehicles (light/ heavy duty trucks, ships, airlines), and/ or as part of a biofuel-traditional fuel blend with gasoline and biofuel. Biofuel needs to be converted into liquefied natural gas (LNG) to be effectively used in the transportation sector. A couple of airlines in particular represent present use, and potentially expanded future use, of biofuel blends; and is the subject of this article from Bloomberg-

For years, airlines have experimented with biofuels, aiming to reduce both carbon emissions and their reliance on fossil fuels…several major carriers are planning larger-scale usage of biofuel in 2019 and 2020, including JetBlue Airways Corp.  United Continental Holdings Inc. said it would cut its carbon emissions by half [by using biofuels] compared to 2005 levels, by 2050, matching an industry target set by the International Air Transport Association.

United Eco-skies
United Eco-skies

United Airlines uses the most biofuels in their airplanes of any airline; after Jet Blue helped to pioneer the use of aviation biofuels; as detailed in an article by Fast Company. From this same Fast Company article ‘…biofuel blended jet fuel, with a carbon footprint smaller than regular jet fuel, but a comparable cost– is one way that the airline industry can begin to tackle its climate problem. By mid-century, like other industries, airlines will have to reach net zero emissions for the world to stay on track to meet the goals of the Paris climate agreement.”

Please see: 

Algae: the future of biofuel


Anaerobic digestion – a proven solution to our waste problem

Gasification – creating syngas

Combined heat and power – making the most of energy

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  1. Please let us here at Green City Times know what you think in a comment; and we’ll try and answer any questions as well.

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    [Dan Braff is the founder of GCT –

    Daniel Braff]

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