Man has used biomass to produce energy since ancient times. However, the world has continuously developed and hence greater and greater use of energy. With the increasing energy demand, fossil fuels, such as crude oil, coal and natural gas, are used instead of biomass. This has much reduced the role of biomass nowadays.
There are considerable benefits of using biomass, namely:
- The processes of combustion of any substances will release carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere. When the sun radiates to the earth, some radiation cannot reflect out, thus causing global warming. CO2 will also be released, but plant will absorb the CO2 for their photosynthetic process, thus biomass combustion is not considered as a source of greenhouse gas emission.
- If biomass, such as animal manure, is not used and is left to decay naturally, it will release methane, which is one of greenhouse gases and which is 21 times more dangerous than CO2.
- The sulfur content in biomass is normally not over 0.2%, so the combustion of biomass will not cause the acid rain problem. (The sulfur content in fuel oils about 2% while that in coal is about 0.3-3.8% depending on coal types.)
- Biomass ash is an alkaline base. Thus, it is suitable for growing crops and solving the problem of acid soil. Ash from coal combustion contains heavy metals, so a proper landfill method is required, e.g. using a plastic sheet as the landfill base.
- Using biomass will help reduce the disposal burden such as landfill and burning up.
- Using biomass will help create employment for local people and increase the community income. It is estimated that making use of local biomass will increase the cash flow in system by seven folds and will help increase the national income as well. That is, when farmers earn more income from biomass, the money obtained will be spent and circulated in their respective communities, e.g. for hiring workers to collect and compile biomass, then these workers will spend money for their living. The cash flow cycle will continuously be repeated.
- Using biomass will help save foreign currency since less import of fuel, such as fuel oil and coal, from sources will be needed. Moreover, biomass can be used for other beneficial purpose, e.g. to be raw materials to produce other products, fertilizer and other agricultural purposes, that is biomass can be:
- transformed into fertilizer by composting leaves, grasses and rice straw, for example, for about 2-3 months or leaving them to decay naturally in farms or fields;
- Used as raw materials, e.g. rubber wood chips from sawmill can be grounded then pressed into particle boards for furniture manufacturing;
- used for mushroom cultivation, i.e. by using sawdust or empty oil palm bunches;
- used in livestock activities, e.g. the use of sawdust in chicken farms to receive chicken manure.
Reference: Biomass Book
Published by Energy for Environment Foundation, Biomass Clearinghouse