Energy is what drives every human and non-human process. The least of social activities like sleeping involves the consumption of, and the least of non-human methods like the lighting of an electric bulb requires energy. Simply put, there is nothing done in human existence without some sort of energy consumption.
Energy exists in different forms, and according to the law of thermodynamics, energy is never lost or conserved, it is always converted from one way to another. For example, within the food, we eat lies a form of energy called chemical energy. Upon digestion, this chemical energy is released, but it is not lost.
Instead, it is converted to another type called kinetic energy that allows us to carry out most of our physical activities. Other forms of energy include mechanical, electrical, light, heat, nuclear, etc. types of energy.
Energy is generated from many sources that have been categorized into renewable sources and non-renewable sources. Renewable sources of energy are those sources of energy whose energy depots can be replenished after some time each time they are used while non-renewable sources of energy are done as energy sources ones their energy depots are used.
Non-renewable energy sources include coal, natural gas, hydrocarbon gas liquids, nuclear power, and petroleum products while renewable energy sources include geothermal energy (from the earth), wind energy, solar energy (sunlight), hydro-energy and biomass energy.
global warming and climate change campaigns are targeted at reducing greenhouse gas emissions most especially carbon dioxide which is a notorious product of the use of most non-renewable energy sources especially fossil fuels.
Renewable sources of energy are gaining more attention and exploitation, and biomass is one of those sources that is contributing to the use of renewable energy.
Biomass is energy sources that are found within plants and animals mainly as organic matter. These biomass sources such as wood, agricultural crops, animal manure, and human sewage are energy depots that are exploited by burning or direct conversion to heat or biofuels and biogas respectively that are used for producing industrial heat, electricity, fuels and gas which powers diverse engines in work areas, trains, vehicles, etc.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Biomass Energy
Therefore, it is evident that biomass promises numerous benefits and advantages. However, biomass also has some counteracting disadvantages, and it will be amazing to see both the advantages and disadvantages of biomass and compare them as we seek alternative renewable energy sources.
Advantages of Biomass Energy
This is the primary advantage of biomass energy—its sources are renewable. Sources such as woods are renewed by planting and replanting trees, while others such as animal manure and human waste are replenished with population increase, food consumption, digestion, and excretion. Other agricultural garbage is most often available after each farming season. Therefore, biomass energy is renewable.
Biomass energy sources are vastly and widely available. In every clime, there are woods, agricultural waste, human waste, and animal manure and these are present in large quantities. Therefore, biomass energy is available universally and in large number when compared to non-renewable energy sources like fossil fuels and some renewable energy sources like hydropower.
Carbon is the main culprit in climate change and non-renewable energy sources like fossil fuels contribute more carbon to the atmosphere. However, biomass energy may not reduce the carbon concentration in the atmosphere in all cases, but at the same time, it doesn’t add more carbon to the atmosphere.
Instead, it releases precisely the same carbon that was initially taken from the atmosphere during photosynthetic plant cycle back into the atmosphere.
In addition to this, because it is renewable, when these plants are re-planted, they also absorb the released carbon from the atmosphere. Thus, biomass maintains neutrality in the carbon cycle and sometimes even reduces the carbon concentration in the atmosphere averting climate change.
Biomass energy could be converted in different types of energy for various purposes which make them a versatile source of energy. For example, agricultural waste could be burnt to give heat energy and at the same time could be converted to different types of biogas and fuels that could power many engines such as those found in vehicles and steam engine trains.
- Comparable affordability
Because biomass energy sources are readily available and renewable, they are also affordable. Compared to the cost of oil drills, gas pipelines construction, maintenance and security and gas collection, and storage, the exploitation of biomass energy sources for the production of energy are cheaper. This makes it affordable for both manufacturers and consumers primarily in developing countries.
- Economic productivity
Biomass energy is a rich source of power in the industrial chain. It adds value to agricultural practices because wastes are converted to other useful products which generate more revenue. Also, many landfills and waste depots are turned into valuable land for different activities and even increased agricultural activities.
The wastes in these lands are utilizing to generate useful energy, reducing the land space that is needed for waste disposal while preventing the creation of new ones. These activities also increase the availability of jobs and thus employment is created, and unemployment is well managed mainly in developing countries.
- Domestic usability
Thus, biomass maintains neutrality in the carbon cycle and sometimes even reduces the carbon concentration in the atmosphere averting climate change. Historically, wood has been an efficient fuel for generating heat energy. With more research and information, people could begin to manipulate their own waste products for the production of power without relying on energy producing companies.
- Environmental and Health safety
Biomass energy creation utilizes harmful waste materials which pose environmental and health threats. With landfills and waste products such as sewage and animal manure is used, human and animal exposure to the disease-causing microbial population that is associated with these wastes is significantly reduced.
Also, water pollution from the indiscriminate disposal of both solids and sewage waste which grossly affects both aquatic and terrestrial lives is curtailed. Biomass energy contributes significantly to maintaining environmental and health safeties.
Also, fossil fuel exploration leaves the environment battered and contributes significantly to environmental pollution through oil spillage. Unlike fossil fuel exploration, the use of biomass reduces dependence on fossil fuels and its accompanying effects.
Reduced fossil dependency
As the quest to stop greenhouse emission continues to gather momentum, efforts are channeled towards the low or non-use of fossil fuels because of their high carbon dioxide emissions. Biomass energy provides an alternative to the use of fossil fuels.
Although renewable energy sources haven’t altogether put the use of non-renewable sources like fossils to an end, it has significantly reduced both the application and dependence on fossils and Biomass Energy is a significant contributor to renewable energy forms all over the world.
Disadvantages of Biomass Energy
Despite having numerous benefits and advantages, biomass is not also a perfect source of energy. There are also quite a several disadvantages that accompany the use of biomass energy and the processes involved in deriving it. Some of these disadvantages include
Deforestation is the most likely direct effect of the increased exploitation of biomass energy sources, especially wood. Although plants and wood sources could be replenished and replanted, it takes years to replace trees once they are cut down or replanted.
Biomass energy when it involves the use of wood could lead to the complete loss of a forest because biomass energy requires high quantities of raw materials.
Deforestation consequently results in many other adverse conditions for wild lives as well as humans through the loss of biodiversity, extinction, regulation of the carbon cycle and water pollution. This is one of the significant disadvantages of biomass.
- Air pollution
Even though the use of biomass energy reduces atmospheric carbon and increase oxygen, the use of biomass energy contributes a worrisome quantity of methane to the atmosphere which is a potent destroyer of the ozone layer. When compared to even other sources of renewable energy sources like water, biomass presents a more significant disadvantage by these other carbon-related omissions.
- Space consumption
The use of Biomass Energy requires large portions of land both to grow the necessary raw materials (in cases where wood and agricultural wastes are used) and then to establish the plants that carry out the processes of energy retrieval, conversion, and distribution.
In addition to this, to reduce costs of transportation, most of these plant owners prefer areas that are close to the sources of these raw materials which increase the area of space needed for its exploration.
When compared to other renewable energy sources like solar energy, the space required for the production of biomass energy may even outweigh the advantage that it proposes to offer.
- Solely inefficient
Biomass energy fuels are inefficient in themselves when it comes to powering engines and processes when compared to fossil fuels like gasoline and petroleum.
In most cases where biofuels and biogas are used, they are utilized in combination with some amounts of fossil fuels to derive efficiency. This inefficiency makes biomass energy a poor way to end the use of fossil fuels for most of these processes.
- Comparable high cost
When compared to other sources of both renewable sources such as solar energy and hydropower. The cost of transporting these raw materials, setting up the processing plants and powering them, makes biomass more expensive than other renewable sources. Although it is cheaper than fossil energy sources, it is costly especially when other alternatives are present.
- Water consumption
This particular disadvantage of biomass is not often considered, but it is. The processes involved in generating energy from biomass require a large amount of water because these plants need water to be replenished and the conversion plants processes also require water.
This leads to increased irrigation cost and exploitation of water sources which reduces the availability of water for human and animal consumption and domestic activities. Besides, in areas where hydropower could be easily used, biomass may affect efficiency through this high water consumption.
Global concern for the emission of carbon dioxide and the climatic changes it predisposes is increasing the attention renewable sources of energy is gaining in recent times. Biomass energy is one source of renewable energy, and it is being used all over the world for the generation of the energy required for many processes.
The benefits and potentials of biomass energy are numerous and attractive. It sources are readily and abundantly available, it is a carbon neutral energy source, it is affordable, it is renewable, it is safe to some extent and could be easily used by anyone.
However, there is always another two sides to every story, and so just as biomass energy has excellent potentials and advantages, it also has some disadvantages. Some of these include its potential to cause deforestation, its water consumption, space consumption, methane emission which causes air pollution and its comparable cost when compared to other renewable sources of energy.
Biomass energy, therefore, remains an area in the energy sector that demands intense research towards maximizing its benefits and reducing significantly these associated disadvantages that have been outlined above.
In addition to this, in areas where other sources of renewable energy with fewer problems such as solar energy which consumes less space and hydro energy which gives more power, are present, they should be given due consideration before biomass is adopted.
Also, to avoid deforestation and reduce environmental waste and health hazards that could come from agricultural, animal and human waste, biomass energy could also be used to maximize added values from these waste without the use of forests woods.
Therefore, in all cases, biomass energy should be exploited and used in such a way that most of its adverse effects are minimized or mitigated while the potential benefits are subjected to maximal value derivation.