According to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), biomass can be used for fuels, power production, and products that would otherwise be made from fossil fuels. Biomass can provide a number of benefits, including:
- "The use of biomass can reduce dependence on foreign oil because biofuels are the only renewable liquid transportation fuels available."
- "Biomass energy supports U.S. agricultural and forest-product industries. The main biomass feedstocks for power are paper mill residue, lumber mill scrap, and municipal waste. For biomass fuels, the most common feedstocks used today are corn grain (for ethanol) and soybeans (for biodiesel). In the near future—and with NREL-developed technology—agricultural residues such as corn stover (the stalks, leaves, and husks of the plant) and wheat straw will also be used. Long-term plans include growing and using dedicated energy crops, such as fast-growing trees and grasses, and algae. These feedstocks can grow sustainably on land that will not support intensive food crops."
The U.S. Energy Information Administration examines the benefits of using biomass for energy. Although burning biomass does release carbon dioxide, the plants (through photosynthesis) that make up the biomass capture the same amount of carbon dioxide that is released when it is burned, which can make biomass a carbon neutral option. Below are the different types of biomass and their carbon neutral benefits.
- Wood – burning wood, wood pellets, and charcoal can replace fossil fuels and result in lower CO2 Modern wood-burning stoves, pellets stoves, and fireplace inserts can reduce the amount of particulates from burning wood.
- Municipal Solid Waste – using municipal solid waste as a source of energy can result in less waste buried in landfills. However, burning the waste does produce air pollution by releasing chemicals into the air. Waste-to-energy plants are required to use air pollution control devices such as scrubbers, fabric filters, and electrostatic precipitators to capture the air pollutants.
- Biogas – many facilities that produce biogas, capture it and burn the methane for heat or to generate electricity. Although burning methane does produce CO2, the overall greenhouse effect is lower.
- Biofuels – biofuels burn cleaner than petroleum fuels. Biofuels are considered to be carbon neutral because the plants used to make biofuels absorb CO2 and may offset the CO2 emissions when biofuels are produced.
Updated by Erin Bennett, June 2022