Updated 2 days ago

Biomass energy pros and cons

Written by Catherine Lane

Biomass energy is electricity that is generated by burning organic matter. In a biomass energy plant, organic matter from plants and animals is burned to create steam to turn a turbine that generates electricity. Things like wood, crop and animal waste, and food waste can all be used to create biomass energy.

Biomass energy is reliable, abundant, and helps reduce waste. But, it’s also expensive, requires a lot of space, and burning waste emits greenhouse gases, so it’s not as clean as other renewable energy sources like solar or wind power.

We’re going to take a look at some key pros and cons of biomass energy and what we can expect from biomass in the future. 

Biomass energy at a glance

  • Biomass, or organic matter, can be used as an electricity generation source by burning organic materials to create heat, which will then make steam that turns a turbine to generate electricity.

  • The main advantages of biomass energy are that it is renewable, reliable, abundant, and carbon-neutral. Plus, it helps reduce waste.

  • The main disadvantages of biomass energy are that it is expensive, requires a lot of space, it still releases greenhouse gases, it can have a negative impact on the surrounding environment, and it is inefficient in terms of how much energy it takes to create electricity.

  • Right now, biomass isn’t the best renewable energy option out there, however, if technologies improve, biomass could become a major player in moving away from fossil fuels.

What are the pros and cons of biomass energy?

When looking at renewable energy sources, it’s important to look at all of their advantages and disadvantages. The following table outlines some of the biggest pros and cons of biomass energy:

Pros

Cons

Renewable

Expensive

Reliable

Requires space

Abundant

Greenhouse gas emissions

Waste reduction

Environmental impact

Carbon-neutral

Inefficient

Advantages of biomass energy

1. Renewable

Biomass energy is a renewable form of energy. As we use biomass materials, the supply of organic matter is diminishing. However, biomass can be regenerated quickly. 

The fact that the biomass supply can be regenerated within a human lifetime is what makes biomass renewable. 

2. Reliable

Biomass is a reliable resource that can produce energy at any time. This is an advantage over other renewable energy resources, like wind and solar energy, which are intermittent. 

When the wind isn’t blowing, no wind energy is being created by turbines. This means you can’t rely on wind to produce electricity whenever you need it. Unless, of course, the wind turbine is paired with battery storage. 

Bioenergy power plants on the other hand, can be turned on and off at any time to meet energy demand. As long as there is biomass material available, electricity can be produced. 

3. Abundant

One of the biggest pros of biomass energy is that biomass is abundant. There is a growing amount of organic material being produced every day; you can find biomass nearly everywhere on the planet. This means that biomass won’t have the issue of limited availability like fossil fuels do. 

However, biomass does need to be responsibly managed in order to keep its abundant supply well-stocked. If we overuse the biomass that is available, we could run into availability issues while we wait to replenish the supply.  

4. Waste reduction

One reason why biomass is so widely available is because the planet produces a lot of waste. Much of the waste we make is biodegradable, like food and plant waste. Instead of letting it become garbage, we could instead turn it into electricity! 

Biomass energy takes waste that would otherwise sit in a landfill and makes it useful. This reduces the amount of waste that goes into landfills, which is better for the environment. 

Plus, with less waste, we would need fewer and smaller landfills. This opens up more land that can be used by communities. 

5. Carbon-neutral

Carbon dioxide emissions are driving forces of climate change. Biomass is considered a carbon-neutral energy source because it fits into the natural carbon cycle, which traditional fossil fuels do not. 

There is carbon dioxide that is released into the atmosphere when biomass energy is produced. But this is the same amount of carbon dioxide that was absorbed by the plants during their lifecycle. So, when biomass is burned, it does not release any ‘new’ carbon emissions into the atmosphere. 

Then, when new plants grow, they absorb carbon dioxide back out of the atmosphere and enter the cycle again. 

Disadvantages of biomass energy

1. Expensive

The production of biomass energy can come with a high price tag. First, constructing biomass energy plants requires a significant upfront investment. Then, the cost of harvesting and transporting biomass materials needs to be considered. 

Plus, the organic material needs to be stored when it gets to the plant, which requires even more money. All of this makes biomass more expensive than other renewable options on the market. 

Other renewable resources, like solar, don’t require these regular transportation and storage costs. Once a solar farm is built, there is no need to transport fuel or to store sunlight anywhere. 

Even though biomass is more expensive than other renewables, it is still cheaper than fossil fuels. It costs much less to harvest biomass than it does to mine and extract fossil fuels. 

2. Requires space

Biomass energy plants need quite a bit of space, mainly because of needing storage space. This limits where biomass energy plants can be built. 

Some biomass plants also grow their own organic material. These plants may need large amounts of space to be able to grow crops or small forests. Biomass energy plants that grow their own fuel use more land per kilowatt-hour of electricity produced. 

3. Greenhouse gas emissions

As we said, biomass energy is carbon-neutral. However, biomass is still releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Other renewable sources are carbon-zero, which is much better when looking to tackle climate change. The less carbon dioxide being released - the better. 

Carbon isn’t the only thing being released into the atmosphere from biomass energy. Burning wood and other biomass fuels releases many other greenhouse gases, most notably nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, and methane. 

Methane gas is a significant contributor to air pollution and climate change, as it traps about 30 times more heat than carbon dioxide. 

4. Environmental impact

Although biomass energy is renewable, it isn’t the most environmentally friendly renewable option out there. 

Relying on biomass energy could lead to devastating deforestation. As biomass plants require more materials, forests could get cut down at faster rates. It may also encourage monocultures of crops, which decreases biodiversity and strips soils of nutrients, making areas more susceptible to erosion. 

Some biomass plants rely on algae, which tend to require large amounts of phosphorus fertilizers to produce the amounts needed for energy production. Overusing fertilizers can cause serious damage to local waterways and to wildlife, most notably birds. 

Even using plants for biomass energy could increase the amount of fertilizers and pesticides being used and negatively impact the surrounding ecosystem. 

5. Inefficient

Right now, biomass energy is not as efficient as other energy sources. In many cases, it takes more energy to burn the organic material than the process actually produces. 

New technologies will need to emerge to make biomass more efficient if we want to use it on a large scale. 

The future of biomass energy

There is no doubt that biomass energy is one of the few options for replacing fossil fuels. 

If new technologies are developed to make the process more efficient, the use of biomass energy has serious potential. For now, it comes with a big set of drawbacks that make it difficult for it to be widely implemented. 

If you’re looking for a way to use the power of renewable and clean energy, you should consider making the switch to solar. Not only do solar panels decrease your carbon footprint, they can eliminate your electric bill! 

Use our solar panel calculator to find out how much you can save when you power your home with solar.

Find out how much you can save by using clean energy
Written by Catherine Lane Solar Industry Expert

Catherine is the Written Content Manager at SolarReviews, where she has been at the forefront of researching and reporting on the solar industry for five years. She leads a dynamic team in producing informative and engaging content on residential solar to help homeowners make informed decisions about investing in solar panels. Catherine’s expertise has garnered attention from leading industry publications, with her work being featured in Sola...

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