As we strive to find alternative energy resources, many potential solutions are on the table. Biomass energy is one such solution or is it?
Biomass energy is unique in that it has existed in primitive forms since the early days of mankind. Burning wood in a cave is a form of biomass energy, which is simply the conversion of an organic material in a manner that produces heat. For example, a fire converts the organic wood into heat. Therein, however, lays the problem.
Global warming is a much debated issue with everyone having a strong opinion and no one seemingly willing to listen to the other side. Whatever your view on this subject, what is clear is we are producing an absolute ton of carbon-based gases in our modern civilization. This is a key issue since the amount of carbon in the atmosphere is a key factor in climate regulation on our planet.
To understand the problems of biomass as an energy form, one has to understand the biomass cycle that occurs on the planet. Simplified, the biomass cycle regulates the amount of carbon in our atmosphere. The biomass, primarily in the form of plants, uses carbon to grow and the biosphere effectively acts as a sponge for carbon. This sponge effect, however, has limits. As with a sponge in your kitchen, the biomass can only suck up so much carbon at one time. When there is too much carbon in the atmosphere or we shrink our “sponge” with deforestation and such, we run the risk of overwhelming the atmosphere with carbon gases. If our atmosphere has excessive carbon, heat is trapped and all hell begins to break loose. From a practical standpoint, this means our relatively mild climate on Earth will start becoming more chaotic. After the most recent hurricane season, that definitely is not a good thing.
Taking the biomass cycle into consideration, the negatives of all biomass energy production are that they create more carbon gases. A caveman sitting next to a fire in a cave is using biomass energy to produce heat, but the black smoke is a very nasty carbon pollutant. In modern terms, biomass energy doesn’t really resolve the amount of carbon we are putting into the atmosphere. Yet, there is an argument on the other side of the biomass coin.
Proponents of biomass argue it is a better energy source than fossil fuels. The basis of this argument is that plants [biomass] have taken in much smaller amounts of carbon gases over a shorter period of time than fossil fuels. Thus, burning them is a carbon neutral situation. The problem, of course, is that even if this concept is correct, we are not cutting down our carbon emissions. At this point in time, we need to be reducing carbon gasses, not maintaining our current output.
It is undisputable biomass has its problems. It is a better alternative than fossil fuels, but how much so?