Written by Kirsten Toft, ESLLC 2015-2016
Biomass may get a bad rep, as it should, but it gets more bad rep than it deserves as it has great potential to be so much more sustainable.
So what is biomass and why is it bad?
If you don’t know anything about biomass, it is biological material that can be used to create energy/fuel. Sounds awesome as it uses natural substances, but keep in mind that natural doesn’t always equal good; fossil fuels are natural too. What makes it unsustainable is that biomass has typically been derived from crops grown specifically for it (such as corn fields dedicated to creating biomass energy). This is a huge waste of resources as it uses tons of water, labor, and power to create food that is not even getting used as food, just getting burned! Not to mention that it also releases carbon emissions, so what is even the point?
First, I want to address the issue of carbon emissions destroying our planet. Fossil fuels release tons of carbon emissions into our environment because they had been trapped under the earth and are now being added back into the climate as they are being burned, which creates a surplus and is changing the climate and ecosystems all over the world. Biofuels, on the other hand, take in carbon when they are being grown, so when they are burned, that same carbon is released back into the atmosphere, which makes it carbon neutral if you do not add in the factor of transportation (or any other factors that require fuel) that goes into production. The transportation, however, may also be made carbon neutral by using the biofuels as a fuel source.
Biofuels can also be used in a much more sustainable way. Since biofuel can be created from any organic material, it can also be taken from food waste or dead plants. Colorado has taken the initiative to begin using its dead trees as biomass. This is a great use of a horrible situation in which many of its trees are being killed by the bark beetles. While it can’t replace the trees that are killed or threatened by the bark beetles, it can put many of them to a productive use powering thousands of home and reducing the severity of fires in the forest. Other plant waste (dead plants, trimmed branches, etc.) can also be used for biofuel.
Food waste is also a great way to make energy. Not only is 30% of perfectly good food totally wasted in America, but there is tons of inedible parts of food (peels, bones, stems, etc.) that is just thrown into the landfill. And while there can be other great uses for this waste such as giving the good food to a food bank or composting the inedible parts, it can also play a great part in energy, which I think is a good idea considering how much energy is put into food production; it can kind of counteract that.
So although the biomass can be put to other uses, turning them into biofuel can be just as great and much better than using fossil fuels as energy.