Biomass Fuel Notes

© Moreniche


Biomass fuel comes from three sources, wood, waste, and alcohol. The alcohol portion is about converting corn into ethanol for use in the transportation sector. The waste portion is mostly from municipal solid waste or methane from landfills. It’s also involved with the wood portion. The wood portion is from sawdust, excess wood left over from logging and papermaking. Also, the use of “black liquor”, the stuff that is made during the process of papermaking, is also used for biomass fuel.


Winds are created by uneven heating of the atmosphere by the sun, irregularities of the Earth's surface, and the rotation of the Earth. As a result, winds are strongly influenced and modified by local terrain, bodies of water, weather patterns, vegetative cover, and other factors. The wind flow, or motion of energy when harvested by wind turbines, can be used to generate electricity. Wind-based electricity generating capacity has increased markedly in the United States since 1970, although it remains a small fraction of total electric capacity.


Solar thermal devices use direct heat from the sun, concentrating it in some manner to produce heat at useful temperatures. The modern solar industry began with the oil embargo of 1973-1974 and was strengthened with the second embargo in 1979. The growth of the solar industry during this period of fuel shortages and high prices (1974-1984) soared from 45 solar collector manufacturing firms to 225 firms. The solar market was helped during this period by government assistance, both Federal and State. Currently, solar thermal devices do everything from heating swimming pools to creating steam for electricity generation.

Photovoltaic devices use semiconducting materials to convert sunlight directly into electricity. Solar radiation, which is nearly constant outside the Earth's atmosphere, varies with changing atmospheric conditions (clouds and dust) and the changing position of the Earth relative to the sun. Nevertheless, almost all U.S. regions have useful solar resources that can be accessed.

Solid Waste

The municipal solid waste industry has four components: recycling, composting, landfilling, and waste-to-energy via incineration. Municipal solid waste is total waste excluding industrial waste, agricultural waste, and sewage sludge. As defined by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, it includes durable goods, non-durable goods, containers and packaging, food wastes, yard wastes, and miscellaneous inorganic wastes from residential, commercial, institutional, and industrial sources. Examples from these categories include: appliances, newspapers, clothing, food scrapes, boxes, disposable tableware, office and classroom paper, wood pallets, rubber tires, and cafeteria wastes. Waste-to-energy combustion and landfill gas are byproducts of municipal solid waste.

Municipal solid waste contains significant portions of organic materials that produce a variety of gaseous products when dumped, compacted, and covered in landfills. Anaerobic bacteria thrive in the oxygen-free environment, resulting in the decomposition of the organic materials and the production of primarily carbon dioxide and methane. Carbon dioxide is likely to leach out of the landfill because it is soluble in water. Methane, on the other hand, which is less soluble in water and lighter than air, is likely to migrate out of the landfill. Landfill gas energy facilities capture the methane (the principal component of natural gas) and combust it for energy.

Ocean Thermal Gradients

OTEC, or ocean thermal energy conversion, is an energy technology that converts solar radiation to electric power. OTEC systems use the ocean's natural thermal gradient—the fact that the ocean's layers of water have different temperatures—to drive a power-producing cycle. As long as the temperature between the warm surface water and the cold deep water differs by about 20°C (36°F), an OTEC system can produce a significant amount of power. The oceans are thus a vast renewable resource, with the potential to help us produce billions of watts of electric power. This potential is estimated to be about 1013 watts of baseload power generation, according to some experts. The cold, deep seawater used in the OTEC process is also rich in nutrients, and it can be used to culture both marine organisms and plant life near the shore or on land.

Energy Information Administration. (2007, July). Renewable and Alternative Fuels. Energy Information Administration. Retrieved January 17, 2008, from

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