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    Electricity Education - BioFuels

    Bioenergy Generation

    Biomass (organic matter) can be used to provide heat, make fuels, and generate electricity. This is called bioenergy.

    Bioenergy technologies use renewable biomass resources to produce energy-related products such as electricity, liquid, solid, and gaseous fuels, heat, chemicals, and other materials.

    Bioenergy ranks second (after hydropower) in renewable primary energy production. It accounts for 3% of the primary energy production in the US (with 10 gigawatts of installed capacity).

    Bioenergy Resources

    Wood, the largest source of bioenergy, has been used to provide heat for thousands of years.

    Biomass includes: pitch, peat, railroad ties, sludge wood, wood/wood waste, spent fuels, agricultural byproducts, fish oil, landfill gas, municipal solid waste, sludge waste, straw, and tires.

    Today, many bioenergy resources are replenished through the cultivation of energy crops, such as fast-growing trees and grasses, called bioenergy feedstocks.

    Bioenergy Conversion

    Heat can be used to chemically convert biomass into a fuel oil, which can be burned like petroleum to generate electricity.

    Biomass can also be burned directly to produce steam for electricity production or manufacturing processes.

    In the lumber and paper industries, wood scraps are sometimes directly fed into boilers to produce steam for manufacturing processes or to heat buildings.

    Some coal-fired power plants use biomass as a supplementary energy source in high-efficiency boilers to significantly reduce emissions.


    Unlike other renewable sources, biomass can be converted directly into transportation fuels. The two most common biofuels are:

    Ethanol: An alcohol, is made by fermenting biomass high in carbohydrates (for example, corn). It is mostly used as a fuel additive to cut down a vehicle's carbon monoxide and other smog-causing emissions.

    Biodiesel: An ester, is made using vegetable oils, animal fats, algae, or even recycled cooking grease. It can be used as a diesel additive to reduce vehicle emissions or, in its pure form, to fuel a vehicle.


    Even gas can be produced from biomass for generating electricity

    Gasification systems use high temperatures to convert biomass into a gas (a mixture of hydrogen, carbon monoxide, and methane). The gas fuels a turbine, which is very much like a jet engine, only it turns an electric generator instead of propelling a jet.

    The decay of biomass in landfills also produces a gas-methane-that can be burned in a boiler or fuel a turbine to produce steam for electricity generation or for industrial processes.

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