What exactly is Biomass (and Biomass Energy)? In a nutshell, Biomass refers to organic material derived from plants and animals; this material contains stored energy from the sun.
If you recall learning about photosynthesis back in Primary School, well, that’s basically how Biomass gets its stored energy. Simply put, plants create energy using photosynthesis, then store this energy for later use. When animals consume plants, this stored energy gets transferred to them, and when they excrete waste, the stored energy (a part of it, at least!) gets returned back to Mother Nature.
Biomass is widely used across the globe; in fact, it’s one of the most commonly used renewable sources of energy (although it does come in second to hydropower). All in all, Biomass supplies almost 15% of the world’s total energy — but as you’ll come to see, developing countries are way more reliant on Biomass Energy, as opposed to other countries.
The Different Categories Of Biomass Energy
By far the most common type of Biomass Energy is wood from trees. Think about it… our ancestors have been using wood to produce energy for centuries now. Even today, it’s common for people (not from Singapore, but from other parts of the world!) to gather branches and other forms of wood to power their fireplaces or wood-burning stoves.
Wood aside, the other types of Biomass Energy include:
- Agricultural crops and agricultural waste
- Food and yard waste, and other forms of garbage
- Animal manure and human sewage
These are either burned directly as fuel, burned to generate electricity, or converted to liquid or gas biofuels so that they can be burned as fuel.
How Biomass Energy Is Generated & How It Is Utilized
How is Biomass Energy generated? Well, this depends on the category of Biomass you’re dealing with.
With solid Biomass such as wood, you’d typically burn it directly to produce heat. When it comes to miscellaneous Biomass (eg paper, food scraps and waste materials), these are sent to landfills to decompose. In the process of decomposing, the Biomass is converted to biogas or liquid biofuels such as Ethanol and Biodiesel, which are then burned for energy. Finally, sewage and animal manure are processed in special vessels called digesters to produce biogas.
What’s next? Biogas can be used to heat and cook, and it can also be used in a gas engine (here, the energy in the gas is converted into electricity and heat). Liquid biofuels such as Ethanol and Biodiesel can be used in vehicles or as heating oil as well.
The Top 3 Countries Harnessing Biomass Energy
As mentioned earlier, Biomass Energy is a highly popular source of energy in developing countries. As of now, the top 3 countries harnessing Biomass Energy are all located in Africa — these are Ethiopia, Democratic Republic of the Congo and Tanzania.
In Ethiopia, which is located in East Africa, Biomass accounts for a whopping 92.9% of the total energy supply. Congo and Tanzania are hot on Ethiopia’s heels — in these two countries,
Biomass accounts for 92.2% and 85% of the total energy supply respectively. In these countries, Biomass is used heavily in day-to-day life, for heating, cooking, and other purposes.
The Disadvantages Of Using Biomass Energy
At first glance, Biomass Energy might sound like a positive thing — it’s renewable, after all. That said, using Biomass Energy on a large scale brings about plenty of disadvantages, so don’t be so quick to jump on the Biomass bandwagon.
For one thing, the widespread use of Biomass Energy leads to a great deal of environmental damage. When people cut down trees to use as fuel, this results in widespread deforestation, and loss of flora and fauna. On top of that, burning wood and other Biomass causes pollution (think of the dreaded haze that we Singaporeans have to grapple with on a yearly basis).
On top of that, using Biomass Energy also brings about supply chain issues. The current conversion processes are pretty inefficient, and there are plenty of challenges associated with storing Biomass Energy. Plus, there also isn’t any supply chain standards when it comes to Biomass Energy — this isn’t ideal if you ask us!
While Singapore doesn’t rely on biomass energy to generate electricity, there is a way to go green and do your part for the environment!
Going Green With iSwitch
iSwitch is a licensed electricity retailer in Singapore that offers a range of green electricity plans for both residential and commercial buyers. If you’re on one of these plans, this means that the electricity you use on a daily basis has zero environmental impact, and is completely 100% carbon neutral!
By purchasing your electricity from iSwitch, you get the best of both worlds. You’re going green, and at the same time, saving on your monthly expenses (assuming you’re getting a residential plan, you can push down your electricity bill by as much as 30%). If you will like to select the best green power supply for your business instead, read more here.
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