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If a raw material was recently part of a living organism, it makes good biomass. Organic substance that has otherwise little use for you such as inedible plant cuts, sawdust or recycled cooking oil, offers a path to carbon neutral energy generation. With the right process, you can transform biomass materials into a range of valuable energy sources.

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Biopower: Spoilt for choice

If you see it one way, biomass is waste from plants and animals. But the spoilage is rich in energy that you can harness for multiple uses.

Biomass can be burned to generate heat that, in turn, produces turbine-powering steam. This is not as simple as setting a pile of waste on fire: you must first dry out the material to stop it from rotting in a process known as torrefaction. You then crush and compress the residuals into briquettes, also known as pellets, for easier storage and transportation. This type of pellet production is very commonly used for biomass energy.

High in energy density, biomass pellets or briquettes can either be burned directly or co-fired with a fossil fuel, cutting CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions.

The pros of pyrolysis

An alternative approach to converting biomass into energy is pyrolysis. With this method you subject the organic material to high temperatures (200-300°C) in an environment with limited oxygen.

Pyrolysis produces a black liquid often called bio-oil that you may fire to produce electricity directly. Your second by-product is syngas (synthetic gas) that can substitute natural gas. The process also yields biochar as a third derivative, a prized soil enricher in agriculture.

Solid waste to gas asset

A common method of transforming biomass to energy is gasification. One technique you may adopt produces syngas by heating the feedstock  to a minimum 700°C with restricted oxygen.

Anaerobic decomposition provides another way by facilitating the fermentation of biomass through microbial digestion in an oxygen-free space. In this process, your final product is methane which can be used as a replacement for fossil fuels.

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