What is it?
All of the Earth’s living material or ‘biomass’ exists in a thin layer around the surface of the planet called the biosphere. It is a huge store of energy that is continually replenished by the Sun through photosynthesis. Biomass is any plant or animal matter, including plant and animal waste and human sewage. Energy crops are plants grown specifically for fuel.
How is it used to generate electricity?
Biomass is burnt directly in boilers to produce steam which turns a turbine and generator to make electricity. In more advanced plants, biomass can be converted to gaseous or liquid fuels through gasification or pyrolysis so that the derived fuels can be used in more efficient gas turbine driven generators.
Where can you find it?
It is all around us.
Advantages and disadvantages of using biomass to generate electricity
• It is renewable – new plants and trees can be grown to replace those used for fuel
• It supports farmers and foresters by providing markets for their crops
• It is a carbon neutral source of energy
• It is an expensive method of generating electricity
• Biomass power plants need to be built near a plentiful supply of biomass fuel
How many power stations in the UK?
Most coal-fired power stations now co-fire a percentage of biomass in the fuel. A number of dedicated biomass power plants up to 44MW are currently generating in the UK.
How much does it cost to produce?
Electricity produced using biomass burnt in traditional coal-fired power stations costs 4.0p-6.1p p/kWh.
What is the carbon cost?
Biomass is carbon neutral. This means the amount of carbon dioxide released when the fuel is burned is the same as the carbon dioxide absorbed by the plant when it was growing.
As it becomes easier to collect, process and convert, biomass will become an increasingly popular option.
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