By: C.D. Foster, J. Gan, and C. Mayfield
In the United States, 86 percent of the total energy consumed comes from fossil fuels, 6 percent from renewable energy sources, and 8 percent from nuclear power. Of the renewable energy, 34 percent is comprised of wood produced energy, most of which is used by the forest products industry as process heat.
In recent years, the nation’s consumption of energy has drastically increased. About 100 quadrillion BTUs of energy were used by Americans in 2004 compared to 89 quadrillion BTUs in 1994 (EIA, 2005). As our consumption of energy increases, we must develop environmentally friendly alternatives to fossil fuels.
The United States is particularly vulnerable to oil supply disruptions or price increases since it imports more than 50 percent of its crude oil consumption (EIA, 2002). More efficient and effective utilization of biomass will increase the amount of renewable energy sources used. It will also help to lessen dependence on foreign supplies of fossil fuels.
Biomass is an attractive modern energy source provided it can be economically utilized. All types of energy services are being provided today using biomass, with the reliability, safety, and efficiency required by the modern economy and society. Geopolitical considerations also play an important role in energy security. As a result, many countries, including Sweden and Finland, have realized the need to improve the efficiency of energy generation, distribution, and consumption. They have begun to harness local resources as a way to increase the security of the energy supply, reverse fossil fuel dependency, and improve trade balance.
Advantages of Biomass over Other Alternate Energy Sources
- Biomass can be used as a necessary source on decentralized basis.
- Very clean fuel in that the ash content of wood is only between 1.0-3.0%
- Energy resource like nuclear power plant or hydroelectric power requires high installation cost.
- Production of wind energy and solar energy is not viable in all areas.
Important Applications of Biomass
- Biomass can be used for production of metallurgical coke, which has great importance in metallurgical industries such as iron making, gold extraction, and production of some alloys.
- Chemical industries use biomass in the manufacture of ink, activated carbon, pyrolytic carbon, and other products.
- Pharmaceutical industries manufacture medicines.
- Biomass can have tremendous application in power generation in thermal power plant and other industries.
- Energy Information Administration 2002. Petroleum Supply Annual Energy Outlook 2002, Volume 1. Washington DC. U.S. Department of Energy.
- Energy Information Administration. 2005. Annual Energy Outlook 2004. Washington, DC: 397 pp. U.S. Department of Energy.
- Foster CD, Gan J, Mayfield C 2007. Advantages of Woody Biomass Utilization. Pages 35-38. In: Hubbard, W.; L. Biles; C. Mayfield; S. Ashton (Eds.). 2007. Sustainable Forestry for Bioenergy and Bio-based Products: Trainers Curriculum Notebook. Athens, GA: Southern Forest Research Partnership, Inc. [pdf]