When you think of renewable energy, the wind and sun are probably the first places your mind goes. While solar and wind power are easy to see and understand in the form of panels and turbines, biomass and biogas are two energy forms also powering your everyday life. Clean-tech research and development firm Clean Edge released a 2012 study showing the biofuel industry grew to more than $95 billion in 2012, up more than $12 billion from the previous year. Here’s what to know about this growing industry:
Biomass Renewable Energy
Biomass energy is derived from organic matter that comes from living plants, crops and trees. Most of the energy works by converting the carbohydrates contained in the plant matter into a usable form, as Clean Edge notes. If you’ve ever cooked on a campfire, you’ve used a type of biomass energy. However, there’s a fine line between a renewable energy source and a destructive energy source.
The Natural Resources Defense Council reports biomass power, when done correctly, is a good source of renewable energy. Some states, such as Massachusetts, focus on selecting biomass sources that won’t contribute to pollution and other harmful issues. If this type of careful selection is not used, it ends up being harmful to the environment. Fast-growing plants and trees are the best type of material, since they replenish faster than they’re being used. If the energy is produced using resources that cannot renew themselves in a reasonable time frame, it is counterproductive to the renewable energy goal.
Biomass energy is used for nearly five percent of energy in the United States, reports the Institute for Energy Research. This is not as high as other types of renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar power, but it provides a great alternative for locations that don’t receive high wind or lots of sunlight. If you’re looking to get into producing biomass energy, the first step is to determine whether you have a good source of biomass on hand before you dive in head-first. You also want to compare energy suppliers for deals on an electric company that supports you augmenting your energy output.
Biogas Renewable Energy
Biogas energy might make you think companies are trying to extract energy from the methane emissions produced by livestock. However, the gas that it’s actually referring to is the gas that is generated when organic matter breaks down when oxygen is not available, according to The Insititute for Energy Research. Either anaerobic bacteria or a fermentation effect breaks down the organic material.
Common organic matter used for biogas generation includes manure, plants and crops. It can be used in a variety of ways, such as renewable fuels, natural gas, electric production, heating, and transportation. Biogas is a renewable energy source that can be easily used in a residential setting. You use a digester to store your organic material, cover it with water to limit the oxygen, and then seal the container up tight. The average energy usage of a family requires a 200-gallon biogas generator, although you can start smaller if you want to get used to the process.