The great thing about biomass energy (or simply “bioenergy”) is that its sources are plant and animal waste. So not only does biomass energy divert this organic matter from the waste stream — it turns it into something we all need, without polluting the planet. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, by 2030, the U.S. has the potential to sustainably produce 1 billion tons of bioenergy each year. As far as renewable energy sources go, biomass is not the most glamorous. But, biomass energy successfully solves two major environmental problems at once — an incredible feat if there ever was one!
Renewable Energy 101
Biomass … the original renewable energy. It’s been part of our lives since our ancestors learned to control fire. In fact, it’s made possible by the sun, whose energy is absorbed by trees and plants through photosynthesis and then released when organic matter is burned or decomposes.
First, there’s plant waste. Wood scraps, sawdust and crop waste can be collected from farms or manufacturers. The waste is burned to heat water. The hot water creates steam. The pressure of the steam spins a turbine. The turbine powers a generator. The generator creates electricity. Simple, really!
Next up: animal waste … also known as “the problem of cow poop.” The solution? Waste from farm animals can be collected in a large tank, called a digester, filled with bacteria that eats the waste and converts it to methane gas. The methane is captured and burned to heat water and create steam. Sound familiar? Second verse, same as the first.
This same principle can also be used to capture methane — a potent greenhouse gas with 25 times the heat-trapping ability of carbon dioxide — from landfills. Once a section of the landfill is closed off, pipes are run from the waste to collect the gas, which can then be burned to make electricity or heat. Biomass may not be the prettiest form of renewable energy, and it needs to be used carefully and thoughtfully to protect the ecosystems that prevent greenhouse gas emissions, but it can be a smart way to make use of waste. Power to the poop!
About: Green Mountain Energy is the nation’s longest-serving renewable energy retailer and believes in using wind, sun and water for good. The company was founded in 1997 with the mission to “change the way power is made.” Green Mountain offers consumers and businesses the choice of cleaner electricity products from renewable sources, as well as carbon offsets and sustainable solutions for businesses.
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