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Topic 33: Discuss the future of Biomass as an Alternative Source of Energy- Risk and Challenges

victor.adukwu's picture

Biomass is currently one of the latest sources of renewable energy. Biomass consists of plant matter that is specifically grown for its ability to generate heat or electricity. Mostly this would mean that Biomass consists of dead plant matter, but plants that are still alive can also generate heat and are therefore also included in the term Biomass.


Menelaos Michelakis's picture

Biomass is a good energy source for the future by the aspect that too many materials can be used for energy production. When producing biofuels, certain types of plants are required such as corn, or sugarcane, but when energy is produced from biomass, too many materials can be used, even food remnants - for instance! So, i mention a few : forestry wastes, wood chips, municipal wastes and organic material almost of all kinds. For obvious reasons, we sould not be surprised when we notice that developing countries are trying to produce cheap energy from their wastes, but also developed countries sould try to get energy from biomass. This is because materials that would go wasted are re-used, a kind of ''energy-recycling'', which is good for the environment and rather cheap for states.

To combine biomass energy with safety and risk analyses, i found some information regarding forestry, because wood is widely used for energy production, not only in fireplaces. Wood-fired power stations, exist in many parts of the world, i think even in England.

Harvesting plants and wood is a rather dangerous activity. High accident and death rates occur depending on the tools-equipment used (axes, matsetas). Equipment such as chain-saws, are not safer but increase productivity. Full mechanised forestry, is not so dangerous, but still involves manual handling of timber, which is a hazardous activity.

I did not manage to find death rates for biomass workers, but for forestry workers, (including energy related activities) so i present them. Annually deaths lie between 32000 and 160000. The numbers seem to big to be true, so someone may wishes to check them.

Ref : G.Boyle, B.Everett, J.Ramage (2003), Energy systems and sustainability, for a sustainable future

Frixos Karletides's picture

Biomass is the organic matter that comes in the form
of wood products, dried vegetation, crop residues and aquatic plants. As Menelaos
stated in his post the main problem with biomass to be used as an alternative
energy source is deforestation. Deforestation can certainly cause groundwater
contamination and irreversible erosion. In addition, biomass energy sources are
large water consumers. This water may be taken through regular rainfall.
However, in other areas where rainfall is negligible the concept of biomass energy
cannot be supported. This demonstrates that alternative energy resources vary
greatly with location. Also, since biomass is a new developing source of energy
it requires a large investment on machines and equipment. This is a big risk
since biomass resources may not succeed to replace current energy sources.

Frixos Karletides

Oluwatosin A. Oyebade's picture

Biomass is the chief energy source for heating and cooking in hamlets and it accounts for one-third of energy requirements in many countries. However its shortcomings sometimes make it unappreciated despite being an important energy source in human history. In addition to problems pointed out by Menelaos and frixos, biomass energy can result in air pollution if not completely combusted or in cases where bad technology is employed especially in rural areas during biochar production. Operating a biomass plant also requires high order skill management and supervision in order to avoid running into losses or shut down programs in extreme cases. The biggest drawback of course still remains feedstock problems as it can be quite expensive to generate if unavailable due to some reasons like in terms of drought.

Oluwatosin Oyebade

victor.adukwu's picture

Biomass consists of dead plant matter, but plants that are still alive can also generate heat and are therefore also included in the term Biomass.In order to produce the heat or electricity, the biomass needs to be directly incinerated and fed fuel to keep it burning. This means that biodegradable waste can therefore also be included if it is able to burn and generate heat or electricity.

Making use of biomass energy helps to reduce the carbon emissions usually associated with burning fossil fuels, thereby diminishing the carbon "footprint" left behind. It can also contribute to reducing the so-called greenhouse effect, as well as the production of the so-called greenhouse gasses. All of this in turn helps to prevent and minimise global warming. When using biomass for energy purposes, the carbon produced when burning is turned into carbon dioxide when it combines with the oxygen around it. When emitted into the air, the carbon monoxide is taken in by living plant through the process of photosynthesis. This, in turn, then results in oxygen being released into the atmosphere, reducing the carbon production that the burning of fossil fuels causes. This means that biomass makes more biological and environmental sense when thinking about sustainable and renewable energy.

The challenges faced in using biomass crops are an alternative sources of energy is the fact that it is seen as occupying land, which could have been utilized in growing food crops. Hunger is still an issue that plagues most countries in the world. When it comes to prioritizing between feeding the nation and producing biomass fuel, feeding the nation will always win. At the same time, the production of the fuel is still quite costly since the technology is relatively new. Improved methods of generating the fuel efficiently and at reduced costs are still being looked after.


ikenna_ekekwe's picture

Hi Victor, this is a very good blog you have set up. In addition to the risks already pointed out by Frixos, I would like to add that, during combustion Biomass releases a lot of CO2 since about half of its composition is Carbon. Biomass resources also release other Green House Gases such as particulate matter and SO2 to the atmosphere, depending on the choice of biomass materials and the technologies and pollution controls used.

Also, in order to counter the resulting deforestation from Biomass exploration, energy crops such as corn need to be cultivated in a very large scale and this could lead to increases in pesticide and fertilizer use that are harmful to wildlife and habitat.

Menelaos Michelakis's picture

(Comments on previous posts : Frixos Karletides, victor adukwu, ikenna ekekwe)

Commenting your previous posts, i think that timber and plants are not the best solutions for energy production from biomass. By that, i mean that plants sould be primarily used for food, animal breeding or for biofuel production because we gain more energy that way. Arable land for certain plantations or even animal breeding is not to be found everywhere. Instead, other organic materials can be used that would go wasted otherwise, such as food remnants or municipal wastes for instance.

With timber, we can produce many things such as furniture or paper, so i believe that growing trees just to burn them for energy is not the best solution. Useless branches, or wood chips from a carpenter's workshop sould be used instead. These would provide a good source of energy if abundant, but would be wasted otherwise.

Conclusion : Certain organic materials sould be prefered than others, such wood chips or municipal wastes, because we generate energy out of nothing, although other types can be used too, depending on the system we examine.

Ref : J.C Mackay (2008), Sustainable energy - without hot air

xenios.ze's picture

Biomass contains a lot of dangers if
we don’t use it correctly. First of all, biomass emits carbon dioxide and
therefore increases the greenhouse gases. Most importantly though is that while
burning it produces fine particles
(PM). These particles are too small and can get into the lungs or
even the blood stream. This substance can harm the human health by increasing
the risk of asthma, chronic bronchitis and heart disease. The burning procedure
also creates nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that
increase smog and ozone, which are known to increase lung disease and
mortality; sulfur dioxides which also contribute to respiratory disease.



Xenios Zenieris

MSc Oil and Gas Engineering

Emmanuel Mbata's picture

Biomass is basically the common name for organic material used as renewable energy source such as wood, crops and waste.

People argue that it is a renewable energy source, so its harmless to the environment, this is totally false because in order to produce energy from biomass, the organic matter must be burnt in some way this releases carbon dioxide into the air unlike the use of solar, wind and other renewable energy sources

Although it is thought to be theoretically in exhaustible fuel source and it is available throughout the world, but i think fossil fuel should only be replaced by energy sources that do not contribute to global warming. 

Andreas Kokkinos's picture

Biomass is constituted by biological material or
recently living organisms such as forest residues (dead trees and branches),
municipal waste, animal matter and other. Biomass can be converted into energy
for electricity generation or for energy products such as biofuel production.
For electricity production Biomass is consumed in gasifiers in order to produce
heat and power steam turbines. For biofuels, chemical processing of biomass is
performed. [1]

Using Biomass as fuel produces air pollutant emissions
such as carbon monoxide (CO), carbon dioxide (CO2), nitrogen oxides
(NOx), Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC) and other pollutants. Sometimes, the
level of emissions by Biomass may exceed the levels of convectional fossil
fuels and thus serious environmental issues are generated. [1]

Fortunately, new technologies are recently developed
in order to control air pollution and generally to control combustion in order
to minimize further biomass emissions in lower levels than fossil fuels.
Currently efforts to reduce emissions of ethanol occur since they are doubled
in a period of thirty years. [2]




Andreas Kokkinos

MSc Oil and Gas Engineering


Incineration of biomass produces tons of gases that are hazardous to
human health and the environment. Theses hazards associated with the generation
of biomass energy undermine the fight against global warming. Nitrogen Oxides
and Volatile organic compounds produced from biomass incineration are dangerous
to human respiration. Biomass also produces tons of fine particulate matter
that are associated with diseases like asthma and cancer. Biomass actually
produces 1.5 times more the amount of CO & CO2 than coal. CO2 we
all know is the most common greenhouse gas.  Although there do exist technologies to capture these gases,
but I feel like most biomass generators are not concerned about these
technologies, as they can be very expensive as well. Like in the case of carbon
capture as used in coal power stations. It is an expensive process. The good thing
about biomass is that it is renewable unlike fossil fuels but its carbon
emissions should be regulated. At the moment this source of energy has been
tagged neutral, which is clearly not the case. Unless these dangerous gases can
be curbed, biomass will still remain a hazard to human health.

Monday Michael's picture

Biomass is biological material obtained from living or recently living plant species [1]. On this issue, I will take a neutral stance and point out the merits and demerits of biomass.
There is a suggestion that biomass (or biofuel) cannot be considered a renewable source of energy as in order to release energy, the plant matter has to be burned and that it releases carbon dioxide in the process. It has to be understood that the plant material takes in carbon dioxide during the period of its growth through the process of photosynthesis and that it is the stored co2 that is then released into the atmosphere during combustion. Newly planted crops/plants then take up this released carbon dioxide almost immediately and that is what constitutes the carbon cycle. With fossil fuel however, the whole lifecycle of plant storage and decomposition under high temperature and pressure and subsequent conversion to fossil fuel takes millions of years. Hence the difference between biomass and fossil fuel is the timescale [1].
I do sympathise with opponents of Biomass as sustainable and renewable source of energy for such reasons as scarcity of arable land to grow crops, the resulting rise in price for food crops, etc.  We all have to understand that not every region of the world is endowed with oil and gas deposits and if such regions want to have some kind of energy independence, they will certainly embrace Biomass as an alternative source of energy, at least to augment their stock of imported oil and gas products.
On the other hand, the supporters of Biomass have all along pointed out that biofuels can reduce dependency on fossil fuels and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, thereby mitigating climate change. This assertion is based on the gallon-for-gallon substitution of biofuel for fossil fuel [2]. However, the comparison between biofuel and fossil fuel is not as simple; for example Nitrogen fertilizer which is made from natural gas, a product of fossil fuel, is used to grow corn and sugarcane to make ethanol [2]. Promoting biofuels also has impacts on water use through irrigation for farmlands and higher prices for food crops especially when crop yield is not as high as was expected, as was the case in the USA this year due to the drought and between 2099 and 2011 in Brazil [3]



Discussion Topic 33: Discuss the future of Biomass as an Alternative Source of Energy- Risks and Challenges.

Biomass can be defined as organic matter with stored energy derived from living or recently living organisms such as plants/energy crops, wood, agricultural residues, food waste, industrial waste and co-products. Like all other sources of energy, biomass has environmental impacts and risks, the major ones being sustainability of the resource use, air quality and carbon emissions. Biomass energy production involves the periodical removal or harvest of crops, residues, trees and other resources from the land and if not done well impacts on the environment. This therefore has to be done in a way that will not affect the land’s ability to meet future needs.

The major risk of air pollution arising from conversion/use of biomass as a source of energy is mainly dependant on the type of conversion technology used. Biomass is composed of mainly carbon and if burnt, the carbon in it is converted into carbon dioxide a greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming.

The current conversion technologies available either release energy from biomass  in form of  heat or electricity or may convert it into another form such as liquid biofuels or combustible biogas. They include thermal conversion where heat is used to convert biomass to another form either by combustion, gasification or pyrolysis; biochemical conversion by use of enzymes of bacteria (anaerobic digestion, fermentation and composting) and chemical conversion such as transesterification.
It should however be noted that various new technologies have been  developed to ensure clean conversion of biomass to energy without significant impacts on the environment, a good example is the Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle (IGCC) with Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS). All these technologies are aimed at increasing the efficiency of biomass to energy conversion with less harm to the environment.

The future of biomass as an alternative source of energy is promising and it can play a very big role in reducing on greenhouse gas emissions; however a lot needs to be done especially to control emissions associated with conversion of biomass to energy and the issue of sustainability. Research and development is vital especially when it comes to feedstock used in the production of biofuels where there is competition between energy and food. Non edible feedstock need to be looked at.
John Bosco Aliganyira
Msc.Oil and Gas Engineering


Maria Christou's picture

To my mind, biomass cannot be characterized as an utterly safe
alternative source of energy. Despite the advantages that biomass has
(renewable and inexhaustible source of energy), it also hides a lot of dangers.

 This why a lot of
energy companies which tried to develop biomass plants, failed. For example, an
energy company called Certica, was planning to destroy its existing gas plant
in Roosecote in order to build a biomass plant. However, more
than 14,000 people were opposed to this proposal and
the government refused
to the company to take any actions. Moreover, the
government stopped referendum on proposals for a biomass power station in Southampton.

As my classmates Xenios and Andreas mentioned
above, by burning biomass we produce harmful gases which are dangerous for both
environment and humans.

Although energy from biomass is safer than other
sources of energy (e.g. nuclear energy) it still needs some improvements in
order to be used widely.




Connie Shellcock's picture


Reading the previous posts, I have noticed that a number of them have said
that Biomass is a potential producer of Carbon Dioxide and therefore poses an environmental hazard. However, depending on how the fuel from the
biomass is obtained, this is not always the case. Adding to what Ikechukwu
Onyegiri said in a previous post, algae biomass could be an efficient fuel
producing source in the future. Chen et al in their paper on Biodiesel production
from algae oil high in free fatty acids by two-step catalytic conversion, describe
how fuel can be extracted by one of three ways

1)      Fuel
extracted from algae biomass  using
organic solvent then transformed to biodiesel using a catalyst

2)      Fuel
extracted using an acid catalyst at atmospheric pressure

3)      Using
high temperature and high pressure systems

These systems eliminate production of harmful
gasses as in the process of synthesising the fuel, the algae use the CO2 to photosynthesise.
The safety hazards of these scenarios include the use of using high pressure
systems which have the potential to explode. 


Richard Sedafor's picture

I agree with John Bosco on the point the that Biomas as an alternative source of energy is very promising. With the Eu directive to divert the dumping of biodegradebles from Landfills lingering, Biomass convertion to energy is a must. The directive mandates member EU countries to reduce the quantity of biodegradables into Landfills to about 35% of 1995 levels by 2016.[1] It must be clearly noted that the technology employed in the conversion of biomass to energy must be carefully selected. Incineration technologies tend to produce alot of harmful gases into the atmosphere and do cause respiratory diseases as suggest my OKechukwu  and others. In fact, incinerator plants have been resisted in many communities from operating. Some have been shut down. But there are other technologies which use anaerobic digestion to produce energy and these must be encouraged.

The most important reason why biomass technologies especially those that convert waste to energy must be considered is that the volume of methane that is produced into the atmosphere is alarming. A study by chalvatzaki M. Lazaridis estimated that Landfills contribute about 15% of greenhouse emissions [2]

Although up until now renewable energy technologies have not been able to contribute more than 3% of energy supply despite the huge investment put to it, the technology must not be totally abandoned. Waste to energy technologies in particular will help save the planet from pollution caused by industrialization and increased population. These technologies always tend to solve two problems. They save the environment and they provide energy.

Why spend millions of pounds to build Carbon Capture and Storage plants when you can prevent the carbon or its associated compounds from gettting into the environment in the first place? 



[2] E. Chalvatzaki M. Lazaridis. Estimation of Greenhouse Gas Emission from Landfills: Application to the Akrotiri Landfill Site (Chania, Greece)-2010.

Kareem Saheed Remi's picture

In addition to what Maria
Chritou and other classmates have highlighted in the previous posts, i would
like to highlight other areas in which biomass energy is not safe.

It is generally known
that biomass produces pollution when burned as a results it releases carbon
mono-oxide and greenhouse gas as rightly mentioned. Also, waste-to-energy
plants release some chemical when wastes are burned, these chemicals can be
dangerous to environment and people when not properly controlled.

Another bad side of
biomass is the disposal of the ash after combustion. Ash can contain high
concentrations of metals from the original waste – textile dyes, printing inks,
and ceramics, for example, contain lead which is dangerous to human health.


Majority of these hazards
pose by biomass processing can be curtailed by introduction another sorts of
technological innovations that may involve higher costs than gain of biomass,
until these technological innovations are achieved, biomass remains unsafe
source of energy. 


Kareem R. Saheed

JIEFU's picture

I agree with what you said that proper control is required before converting biomass into a energy form which we can harness safely. And the fact is with the existing techniques, it can be controlled very well. 

For example using fast pyrolysis method to convert biomass into biofuel, reaction temperature, residence time, presence and amount of different types of gases, e.g. oxygen and nitrogen can be all easilly controlled to maximise the productivity of bio-oil, and minimise the amount of 'residue'. But here the residue means bi-product biogas and charcoal rather than ashes contain lots of harmful components. There are already a number of research centres and companies using this techniques, such as a company in Canada named PYTEC, they use the sawdust collected from neighbour wood processing industry making bio-oil through Fast Pyrolysis since 2005, and produce 5 tons of bio-oil per day.

Another point  I agree, innovations are needed in terms of scale up those successfully operated pilot plant, and money as well.

Connie Shellcock's picture

I agree with the above two posts in that mass produced biofuels could potentially

produce more Greenhouse gasses than they use. Biomass production could also
compete with land use for arable farming which in turn could cause food prices
to increase or even a food shortage. However the use of algae as I have said
before in a previous post, algae doesn’t seem to share these problems. Algae
can be grown in industrial, agricultural waste water and also sea waters,
eliminating the need for crops to be grown for biomass production. The algae
use the nutrients available in the waste water along with CO2 from the
atmosphere and sunlight to photosynthesise. 

SINGH, A., NIGAM, P.S. and MURPHY, J.D., 2011. Renewable fuels from algae:
An answer to debatable land based fuels. Bioresource technology, 102(1),
pp. 10-16.


JIEFU's picture

There are some significant difference between microalgae and macroalgae. The algae you mentioned here which can be used to treat wastewater, I believe are microalgae, although both of them are very promising in terms of producing biofuel and other kind of renewable energy. I agree with you that algae can grow in a wide range of water source, but it may not be a good idea if cultivate microalgae in open seawater. For the reason that different species microalgae have different ability in extracting lipid (oil). If cultivated in an open sea area, they high lipid content species will be polluted by other low lipid content species. Whats worse, the nutrients in that certain area will be taken by them. At the end of the day, people may find what they have collected have no oil at all. In other words, if open sea cultivation is needed, we need to put much more nutrients and manpower as well to realize the desired productivity, which will lead to the economic in-viability. Therefore, for now, microalgae still need to be grown on land with great care. If that is the case, producing biofuel from microalgae will not reduce the competition of land using.

Connie Shellcock's picture

Some interesting point you have made Jiefu. I
must add, microalgae will not compete for land use as it can be placed on non-arable
land. as it is not need to grow in fertile soils etc as food does. Also it
would be impractical to have microalgae growing in the sea unless it was in a
contained environment as this could interfere with native species.
There is an issue with dewatering of algae where ever it is grown by its
nature, but this is an area in which advanced techniques are now moving -
whether its centrifugation or literally squeezing the water out there are ways.
Ok they are expensive just now but as the price of extracting other fuels
increases and technology develops they will become more viable.

DAY, J.G., SLOCOMBE, S.P. and STANLEY, M.S., 2012.
Overcoming biological constraints to enable the exploitation of microalgae for
biofuels. Bioresource technology, 109(0), pp. 245-251.

Connie Shellcock's picture

Some interesting points you have made Jiefu.
I must add, microalgae will not compete for land use as it can be placed on non-arable
land. as it is not need to grow in fertile soils etc as food does. Also it
would be impractical to have microalgae growing in the sea unless it was in a
contained environment in which case it would be remove from there is the same
as it in the open ponds and the water content extracted as it has to be anyway.
There is an issue with dewatering of algae where ever it is grown by its
nature, but this is an area in which advanced techniques are now moving -
whether its centrifugation or literally squeezing the water out there are ways.
Ok they are expensive just now but as the price of extracting other fuels
increases and tech develops they will become more viable.

DAY, J.G., SLOCOMBE, S.P. and STANLEY, M.S., 2012.
Overcoming biological constraints to enable the exploitation of microalgae for
biofuels. Bioresource technology, 109(0), pp. 245-251.

Connie Shellcock's picture

Continuing my previous comment an example of how waste water could be
utilised in fuel production  This was shown
in a study carried out using carpet industry wastewater where the algae growing
in the waste water removed 90% of nutrient in 72 hours and simultaneously
produced 9.2 tons of biomass production per hectare perADDIN RW.CITE{{9 Singh,Anoop 2011}} year. This eradicates the
concern over Biomass taking over usable food crop land as it is carried out in
waste water, decreases CO2 emissions and at the same time provides a potential
for a natural water cleaning source. This has more than one beneficial outcome,
they produce biofuel in the process of doing this and they also clean the water
body which they habituate. 

 CHINNASAMY, S., BHATNAGAR, A., HUNT, R.W. and DAS, K.C., 2010. Microalgae
cultivation in a wastewater dominated by carpet mill effluents for biofuel
applications. Bioresource technology, 101(9), pp. 3097-3105.


Richard Milne's picture

Many previous posts have touched on the recycling of human waste. There are definitely ways in which human waste (ie, uneaten food) can be used as a source of fuel. Even other human waste (the much less desirable kind) can be used as a fuel source, as seen on Episode 1 of 'Kevin McClouds Man Made Home' where he uses human waste from London sewers to light his man made cabin.

Large scale use of these techniques can produce harmful gases, but wouldn't these gases be released anyway when the substance breaks down? Isn't it part of the Carbon cycle? The reason that Coal/Oil/Gas are seen as 'dirty' fuels is because they would not normally break down and release their CO2 naturally, but these biofuels would.

The time has not yet come for man to eliminate certain sources of energy. If we are ton keep our lights on in the future, we will require all the help we can get, so research should continue into finding the best way to extract energy from waste and other bio sources.  

Fungisai N Nota's picture

 Biomass is a good source of energy as it makes use of the different
sources of plant matter with much of the waste that comes from the house being
sent out to landfills it can prove to be a cheap source of energy. The industries
have a lot of residue from the processing of the food product this can also be
used. Farmers also use it to reduce their cost as they can easily produce the
fuel on the farmer by various methods for example the bio-digester.  The only issue towards the future is that for
one to get a sufficient amount of the fuel you need a large amount of the  of the crop or waste matter this now poses the
question with the population growth is it right to grow crop to burn or to feed
the masses. The is the issue of climate change as the world is faced with the
issue of global warming there is need to reduce the carbon footprint and with
biomass there is carbon dioxide as a by-product I believe that biomass may be
there in the future but may not play a major part.  

Fungisai Nota BEng(Hons) MIET

Siwei Kang's picture

According to previous posts, the main reason that biomass should be not encouraged are mostly worried that the materials of biomass production is food, like corps.That is unfeasible in view of food shortage worldwide. However, if we look at the method of biomass production, except the food or plant, another biomass fuel is the waste. Just as Richard Milne mentioned, the waste could be agriculture waste, forest waste, livestock waste and human waste. Any organic waste could be the ideal candidates of biomass pruduction source. It already has been proven that stalk, which is the remnant of foods, can be used for biomass generation. Take China for example, 500 million tons of grains are produced, and 700 million tons of stalks are left. The stalks are used for biomass and the cost is much lower than that of biomass from corps.

On the other hand, with the development of technology, the unit output of biomass is increasing. In Uk, very high outputs of biomass
per hectare has been achieved from wheat, which typically yields 7.5-8
tonnes of grain per ha and the record is 14 tonnes. In 2002, only 174 million tonnes bioenergy production was produced in EU. But in 2003, it incresed to 174 million tonnes, which is 26% increment. Nowadays, many countries, like U.S., China, India and UK are accelerating the biomass energy development due to its low carbon footprint. 

Anyway, the potential of biomass is huge and could be underestimated. It could be an ideal alternative of fossil energy in the future.


Derek Porter.'s picture

I would like to expand on the point you have made Kevin about the acceleration of biomass in the UK.

As the EU has set out a target to reach 20% of renewable energy by 2020 (Ref 1) and the UK’s climate change act aims to cut carbon dioxide emissions by 80% by 2050 (Ref 2) biomass will be a huge player.
To match these targets the UK biomass strategy the following may/has to apply (Ref 3):

  • Sourcing an additional 1 million dry tonnes of wood per annum
  • Increasing the amounts of perennial energy crops in the UK to up to 17% of total UK arable land (1 million hectares)
  • Increased supply from organic waste materials (e.g. manures)

In my opinion biomass has huge potential to meet the targets set out by the UK. This is supported in Ref 4 that states "By 2020, the UK could have 1,800 PJ of bioenergy supply equivalent to 20% of UK primary energy demand and would meet the level of demand estimated in the UK Renewable Energy Strategy" (Ref 4)

Ref 1:

Ref 2:

Ref 3:

Ref 4:

Kyle McFarlane's picture

I completely agree with Siei Kang, just because some forms of biomass can have a negative effect on the enviroment or inadvertantly affect food prices and shortages throughtout the world does not mean the system as a whole should be overlooked. 

There are large plants operating in Norway and even some small ones in Britain that burn chicken manure as their primary fuel. These facilities are not only carbon neutral but provides a range of services besides their power generation, the removal and disposal of manure poses a huge and expensive problem so the burning of it aids farmers. The burning of chicken waste actually reduces the output of methane that would occur if the waste was disposed of as previously carried out. Further more the ashes from the chicken waste are high in elements useful for fertilizer and so even more money can be made.

I am aware that this is only one example and I have focused on the positives but as a relatively new form of energy generation I feel that biomass holds alot of promise and the negatives that we have highlighted here may only be teething problems in the long run.




chukwuemeka uzukwu's picture

Biomass is the term used for all
organic material originating from plants (including algae), trees and crops and
is essentially the collection and storage of the sun’s energy through

photosynthesis. Biomass energy,
or bioenergy, is the conversion of biomass into useful forms of energy such as
heat, electricity and liquid fuels.

Biomass was the first energy
source harnessed by humans, and for nearly all of human history, wood has been
our dominant energy source. Only during the last century, with the development of
efficient techniques to extract and burn fossil fuels, have coal, oil, and
natural gas, replaced wood as the industrialized world’s primary fuel. Today
some 40 to 55 exajoules (EJ = 10
18 joules) per year of biomass is used for energy, out
of about 450 EJ per year of total energy use, or an estimated 10-14 percent,
making it the fourth largest source of energy behind oil (33 percent), coal (21
percent), and natural gas (19 percent). The precise amount is uncertain because
the majority is used non-commercially in developing countries.


The Future Role
of Biomass

Modernized biomass energy is
projected to play a major role in the future global energy supply. This is
being driven not so much by the depletion of fossil fuels, which has ceased to
be a defining issue with the discovery of new oil and gas reserves and the
large existing coal
resources, but rather by the
recognized threat of global climate change, caused largely by the

burning of fossil fuels. Its
carbon neutrality (when produced sustainably) and its relatively even geographical
distribution coupled with the expected growth in energy demand in developing countries,
where affordable alternatives are not often available, make it a promising
energy source in many regions of the world for the 21st


Impacts and Benefits

In general renewable forms of
energy are considered “green” because they cause little depletion of the Earth’s
resources, have beneficial environmental impacts, and cause negligible
emissions during power generation. Yet, while biomass is in principle renewable
and can have positive environmental impacts if managed properly it also shares
many characteristics with fossil fuels, both good and bad. While it can be
transported and stored allowing for heat and power generation on demand,
modernized bioenergy systems can also have negative environmental impacts
associated both with the growing of the biomass and with its conversion to
energy carriers.


Biomass is a renewable source of energy which uses plants to produce energy. There are some disadvantages against -from my point of view- the fallacy that supposes biomass as an alternative source of energy for future. First of all, biomass needs a large amount of wood. Second, it emits greenhouse gases and carbon combustion particles into the air. As a result, deforestation and GHG emission will threaten the planet earth and species living on it. The most significant disadvantage of this source of energy is about its efficiency. In order to generate a small amount of energy, alot of plants and woods are used in biomass. I read an article in a website (, it was written that plants are 30% efficient in biomass energy production whereas this value requires to be 70% in EU legal standards. However, I believe the development of this energy source in the future is inevitable especially in the regions which are covered in dense forest since the population and energy demand is growing.

farman oladi's picture

The  more advance human resources get , there are
more at risk because of our dependency on so many factors of modern life we
take for granted  . For example  During current storm in New York a lot of
problems could have been avoided if there has been more consideration in design
and engineering without so much increase in the expenses or  much changes 
in the original design . 
Emergency facilities in the hospitals and other emergency facilities  are usually located in the basements or lower
levelsof such buildings. The flooding could have been avoided by designing
water proof doors & windows  and by
design of  control room at higher
level  or even use of vertical ladder
through escape doors on the roof of lower level facilities ( like bulk head
used on board the vessels ), blockade will be made to stop flooding of
emergency equipments and fuel tanks while access and control could be available
through a safe channel

FELIXMAIYO's picture

Biomass is living or recently dead plants that are grown for use as fuel. Some of the plants grown include palm oil, sugarcane etc. These plants are harvested and put through the process of gasification. Through the process of gasification the plants are mixed with oxygen which converts these raw materials into carbon monoxide and hydrogen which is biofuel. I appreciate this as a source of renewable source of energy but looking at it critically it has more cons than pros.
From BP website, global biofuels production has stagnated, rising by just 0.7% or 10,000 barrels per day oil equivalent, the weakest growth since 2000. This statistics is encouraging to me because of the challenges associated with this source of energy and the threat it poses to us. Global warming has been a concern to the globe, this source of energy is a threat to the ozone layer. When the plants are burnt they release carbon dioxide which they store. Where does this carbon dioxide end up? Atmosphere is the destination. Do we really care about the future of our planet? The problem is, just because it’s better than the oil we use makes it an alternative.
The other challenge facing it is land for growing these plants to be used to produce biomass. We have ended up clearing forests to create room for them and also converted natural habitats into farmland. Already we have food shortages in the third world countries and here we are trying to plant them to produce energy instead of providing them. In short we are destabilizing the world’s food supply on the global scale.
I don’t really see the need of us using plants to produce energy, from the statistics its contribution is almost negligible.


Oluwasegun Onasanya's picture

Biomass can be used as a source of energy input for electricity generation, provision of heat and in the transport sector.The biomass
itself can be derived from forestry, agricultural products and biogenic waste.
Biomass can be converted into useful energy (heat or electricity) or energy carriers by both thermochemical and biochemical conversion
technologies.Biomass power plants for electricity production are similar to conventional thermal power plants.

At present, biomass is mostly converted into electricity by means of direct combustion, some of the risks and challenges that are involved
are the following enumerated below:
1. Production of flue gas: Flue gases can contain elements that may damage engines, such as fly ash particles, metals and chlorine
components. These gases are harmful to the environment making the flue gas treatment necessary.
2. Environment considerations: Biopower has environmental risks that need to be mitigated. If not managed carefully, biomass for energy can
be harvested at unsustainable rates, damage ecosystems, produce harmful air pollution, consume large amounts of water,and produce net greenhouse
emissions but Co-firing as a means of producing biopower, reduces harmful emissions and lower carbon emissions with lower operating costs.
3.Sustainability: Biomass energy production involves annual harvests or periodic removal of crops,residues,trees or other resources from the land.
These harvests and removals need to be at levels that are sustainable, meaning currrent use does not deplete the land's ability to meet future needs,
and also be done in ways that do not degrade other important indicators of sustainability.

Just like every other energy sector have their own major challenges, so also does the biopower and as a result, should not be abolished as biomass
gasification is generally cleaner and more efficient.
Biomass can be grown and harvested in ways that protect soil quality, avoid erosion and maintain the ecosystem.
With good policies and regulations in place, that will make companies make use of appropriate biomass conversiontechnologies and applications, biopower
will be sustainable and a beneficial climate solution.


1.How biomass energy works.

2.Biomass-Opportunities, challenges and solutions.

VICTOR ETIM's picture

The global energy demand is of critical importance
and researches on alternatives shows that renewable energy resources have high
potentials with its biomass rich feedstocks diversification, greenhouse gas
emission benefits and sustainability. Bioenergy proves to be an attractive
energy field projected to deliver up to 50 000 TWh global energy supply in 2050,
IPCC [1].


However, there are inherent
drawbacks and challenges in the overall production process as most owners and
operators of biogas plants are yet to meet up with the safe operational
standards for HAZOPs, HAZIDs, PFEER, Gas leak detection, proper ventilation and
Risk assessment documentation relative to all their operations [2].

Potential Hazards: These includes exposure to toxic
gas (H2S, N2 and Ammonium Sulphide) emissions, spontaneous
combustion, overpressure due to poor structural design, failure of pressure
relief systems resulting to leakage, corrosive reactions on the containment
vessel material by acidic gases etc.

Consequences: Suffocation by CO2 inhalation,
environmental pollution from leakage of pathogens from substrate, Epidemics and
diseases, severe injuries, death and ecological damage from explosion of plant.

Safety Measures and Mitigation.

ü  Compliance to all relevant safety
legislations, for example the Industrial Safety and Health, Occupational Health
and Safety Act and Hazardous Substances Ordinance practised in Germany [3].

ü  Conduct regular systematic hazards
and risk assessments relative to region and operational mode.

ü  An appropriate plant design and material
selection based on approved Design-CODES with regular inspection.

ü  Conduct relevant and special
safety training for operators and employees.

ü  Effective emergency response plan
must be put in place e.g. automatic gas alarm systems coupled with good rescue
and escape routes, emergency lighting and deluge plans in case of fire.




Ladanai S., Vinterback J., 2009, Global Potential of Sustainable Biomass for
Energy, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Sweden.

Prospects & Challenges of Biomass & Biofuels usage in Power Generation.,; 2012.10.27

[3] BWE Anaerobic
digestion Biogas Plant.
; 2012.10.25





amaka.ikeaka's picture

Biomass has been proposed as the largest contributor to the world's renewable energy mix. It is a collective term for all plant and animal materials and includes wood, straw, animal waste and energy crops. In order to function as an energy source, it must be used directly or converted to biofuels. The following biofuels are currently in use: biobutanol, biodiesel, bioethanol, biogas and vegetable oil. However, biofuel production has been under a lot of fire lately due to issues randing from food availability, affordability, and impact on deforestation. A major challenge associated with this energy option is the fuel vs food debate. First generation biofuels(food crops) are produced from edible feedstock; therefore biofuel production from these feedstock will constantly be in competition with food production. The end result would be an increase in poverty and food scarcity which would lead to an inflation in food prices. To counter this challenge, generation of biofuels from second-generation crops should be concentrated on. These are non-food crops and include waste biomass, corn stover, stalk of weath and special energy or biomass crops, and have no undesirable effect on the  food chain.


Biofuels: Green Energy for the Century? Nigeria Annual International Conference and Exhibition: 2010

faizakhatri's picture

After reading comments of classmates mentioned above I would like to add some more points as inflation rate increases global energy demand increases ultimately and new research and development are develop to turned to renewable energy resources to fulfil the energy demand in future in a way that it can contribute to supply more energy to fulfil world energy in a sustainable way with less danger to environment  and save the planet which is necessary . if  we can compare conventional source of energy sources like coal and oil and gas to renewable like Bio mass answer is obvious that Biomass for a low carbon future it is safer we know that wood has been a measure resource used extensively which mean deforestation occur and the main problem for cutting forests can lead to groundwater contamination and irreversible erosion patterns that could change the structure of the world ecology also some of modernized bioenergy systems have negative environmental impacts associated both with the growing of the biomass along with their conversion process to energy system but new advancement needed to increase efficiency with less harm to people as well as environment khatri M.Sc oil and gas engineering  

ZHANGYANAN's picture

Topic 33: Discuss the future of Biomass as an Alternative Source of Energy- Risk and Challenges

Biomass energy is a kind of renewable
energy that the solar energy is stored as a chemical form. The biosome is the
carrier of the energy. Biomass comes from the photosynthesis directly or
indirectly. It can be transfer into the normal solid, liquid or gas fuel. So it
is a kind of renewable energy and the only energy of renewable carbon source.

The advantages have been presented as

1. Low pollution: As the emission of
biomass has a low percentage composition of SOx, NOx and COx, it can reduce the
influence of greenhouse effect.

2. Widespreading: The biomass energy can be
fully used in the place which is short of coal or some other normal energy.

3. Abundant resources: Biomass is the
4th-largest source of mix energy after the coal, oil and gas.

4. Widely used: The biomass energy can
exist as biogas(methane), solid fuel, gas produced by gasification,
BGPG(biomass gasification and power generation), alcohol and etc.

The using of biomass: The biomass power
generating industry in the United States, which approximately generate 11,000 MW
of summer operating capacity actively supplying power to the grid, produces
about 1.4 per cent of the U.S. electricity supply. Also, the waste of biomass
is 66 per cent to 25 per cent reduce compared to the traditional fossil fuels
such as oil and gas.

As a result, such clean and efficient
renewable energy will always be required in the world of resource scarcity


1. Biomass
Energy Center
. Retrieved on 2012-02-28.

Electric Net Summer Capacity"
. U.S. Energy Information
Administration. July 2009.
Retrieved 2010-01-25.


ZHANGYANAN's picture

Topic 33: Discuss the future of Biomass as an Alternative Source of Energy- Risk and Challenges

Biomass energy is a kind of renewable
energy that the solar energy is stored as a chemical form. The biosome is the
carrier of the energy. Biomass comes from the photosynthesis directly or
indirectly. It can be transfer into the normal solid, liquid or gas fuel. So it
is a kind of renewable energy and the only energy of renewable carbon source.

The advantages have been presented as

1. Low pollution: As the emission of
biomass has a low percentage composition of SOx, NOx and COx, it can reduce the
influence of greenhouse effect.

2. Widespreading: The biomass energy can be
fully used in the place which is short of coal or some other normal energy.

3. Abundant resources: Biomass is the
4th-largest source of mix energy after the coal, oil and gas.

4. Widely used: The biomass energy can
exist as biogas(methane), solid fuel, gas produced by gasification,
BGPG(biomass gasification and power generation), alcohol and etc.

The using of biomass: The biomass power
generating industry in the United States, which approximately generate 11,000 MW
of summer operating capacity actively supplying power to the grid, produces
about 1.4 per cent of the U.S. electricity supply. Also, the waste of biomass
is 66 per cent to 25 per cent reduce compared to the traditional fossil fuels
such as oil and gas.

As a result, such clean and efficient
renewable energy will always be required in the world of resource scarcity


1. Biomass
Energy Center
. Retrieved on 2012-02-28.

Electric Net Summer Capacity"
. U.S. Energy Information
Administration. July 2009.
Retrieved 2010-01-25.

Zhang Yanan ID: 51233945


Kelvin Arazu's picture

Biomass is a renewable energy generated from biological materials usually plant matter.

Future, drivers for this technology

Reduce greenhouse gas emissions i.e low carbon foot print, Sustainable development, Environmental regulations, Energy Security, Job creation, increased awareness of renewable energy potentials.

Risk associated with Biomass energy.

Feedstock such as manure may contain pathogenic organisms. A release would be risky to man, animals and the environment.

Many easily grown grains like corn, wheat are being used to make ethanol. This can have bad consequences if too much of food crop is diverted for use as fuel.

Challenges of Biomass Energy

It's an expensive technology.

Continuous supply of biomass is required to generate biomass energy.

Biogas plant requires space and produces dirty smell.

Due to improper construction, many biogas plants are working inefficiently.

It is difficult to store biomass in cylinder.

Transportation of biogas through pipe over long distance is difficult.

Crops which are used to produce biomass energy are seasonal and are not available over whole year.

Sineenat Kruennumjai's picture

Topic 33: Discuss the future of Biomass as an Alternative Source of Energy-    Risk and Challenges
 In the future, biomass is expected to play the large role for energy supplies. This is because its potential resource is large, as well as it can replace directly for fossil fuel in the existing energy supplies basic structure. The potential risks involved in the large scale of bioenergy consumption are consisted of toxic gases emission (e.g. SO2, NOx, GHG, and VOC), hazardous material contamination (solid wastes), workers health and safety issues (such as risks from crop cultivations, harvest, and generating activities).
 Because of the increasing in the demand of biomass consumption in the future, a key challenge for bioenergy is investigating and developing the biomass energy conversion technologies. Such technologies should be developed their efficiency in order to produces enough energy carriers on demand. And they should be minimized the risks, as well as minimized the environmental impacts.  Moreover, the mobilizing forest-based biomass, in order to preparing sufficiently resource for power generation, is becoming another challenge.   


Post by
Sineenat Kruennumjai
ID 51126536

Savitha Haneef's picture

There are a variety of conversion technologies available now to make biomass a renewable energy source. I believe the biggest advantage of biomass is the usaege of waste products for its production, be it food or industrial waste.Here contaminated wastes poses a big risk. If  the wastes are contaminated with arsenics  and halogens (as a result of the treatment in case of wood), burning such wastes would result in hazardous bottom ash or flue gas emission.This could be minimised by using suitable filters , better handling of ashes and requires continuous monitoring.

 As like any other energy source , biomass has some negative effects on the atmosphere.That doesnt mean the whole  system should be shut down.Being a novel fuel in the UK, every difficulty is percieved as a  failure of the concept of biomass and attracts a lot of negative publicity.Technologies are improving and there would be lesser risks and challenges to be faced in the future. So yes for biomass . 

Savitha Haneef

MSC Safety & Reliability Engineering

Azeezat's picture

To add up to
what my colleagues have discussed, Biomass is a renewable energy source that is
used to produce both heat and electricity and also known as source of low carbon.
The most common type of biomass is used
for power generation and can help to significantly reduce CO2 emissions. The
challenge of Biomass lies in ensuring a sustainable value chain that does not have
negative impact on environmental or social conditions. The future of Biomass
will be increasingly high as the
number of power plants in Europe
is expected to increase dramatically in coming years. The challenge of Biomass
is that since its requires a large area of land, this could have a negative
impact on food production leading to increase food prices and forestry
The various types of biomass facilities (such as power
plants, ethanol production plants, biodiesel and biogas production plants, and
landfill  involves different activities which
results in different impacts.


In order to identify and
implement appropriate mitigation measures, the potential impacts of Biomass
must first be assessed, its specific factors must be evaluated to be able to determine
whether the impact can be avoided or mitigated, what action can be taken, how
effective the mitigation measure will be, and the cost-effectiveness of the
measure. These are some of the mitigation measures to be put in place : proper hazardous
materials/waste management, Health and Safety guidelines and Land use guidelines




According to the research from United Nation, generally speaking, there are many ways to produce biomass. The following outcome depends on the local situation, for example, if the method adopted is not reasonable, it may lead to a threat to environment, creature diversity and food safety of human being. On the contrary, provided the project is appropriate, as a result, poverty and climate changing could be eliminated and it is helpful to increase local people’s earning and enhance the food safety of farmers. Material market of biomass gives farmers new opportunities for rapid increasing. Modern biomass energy makes energy service more extensive and low-priced and provides support for development of agricultural production which may make positive impact on grain supply and obtaining. In the meantime, the electricity demand of 1.6 billion people short of electricity power all over the world can be met by advanced biomass energy. In a word, when decision is made, the food safety issue shall be considered in the first place.

Biomass is obtained from living organisms lke plants and plant-derived materials. Biomass can be used directly or indirectly as an energy source. Thermal, chemical and biochemical conversions are the three ways of conversions by which we can convert biomass to energy. 

Biomass in plants are directly used to produce heat and electricity by burning it. Biomass from plants or animals matter can be converted to fibers or chemicals like biofuel can be produced. Biomass is considered as renewable energy even though it produce carbondioxide while burning. This is because it wont produce new carbon. 

Risk associated with this energy is it create air pollution. The forest based biomass plant can create affect the enivironment.  Burning biomass produces carbondioxide, nitrogen oxides. These pollute the air. 

Maxwell Otobo's picture

Biomass refers to all organic matter that can be processed to generate energy such as wood, agricultural waste, algae and microalgae. Biomass is one of the significant source of renewable energy and has potential applications in electricity, heat, combined heat & power and transport. As the world is going green by shifting from fossil fuels to renewables, Biomass is becoming an increasing attractive source of energy. It has been estimated that biomass will contribute about 50% of the global energy mix by 2050. 

The negative effects of biomass are;

  • Increased erosion as a result of foresting
  • Degradation of soil quality due to continual use
  • chemical pollution as a result of increased use of fertilizers and pesticides.






Ber_Mar's picture

Adrressing this point in the UK there is a Scheme of building landfill gas generator to generate waste out of trash. Last year in February i went to York to visit a small brick factory, for a project i was conducting in Portugal, which needed a very specific brick type and all arround the factory were this huge landfills. After that they the gentleman owner of the factory confessed that in a few years his factory would probably have the same destiny as they were a reliable and easy source of money over time.  This is just one example of many reliable working facilities which pose litle or no threat to the environment if well constructed, since landfill would be necessary anyway, by adressing them like this the gas produced is used.

Mehran Vakil's picture

You may be a little surprised when you realize that emitting of carbon dioxide is not a threatening factor associated with producing energy from biomass.
I have become aware that the magnitude of released carbon dioxide will be offset due to capturing by vegetables in order to their growth (Lessner, 2012).
Personally speaking, while there are myriad people suffered from hunger due to famine and other catastrophic events, it is not fair to capture energy from agricultural harvests (my perspective). Moreover, it is not economical in comparison between cheap fossil fuels. Installation and operation of this type of energy takes tremendous amount of money. So, many organizations are in dilemma to invest in this state of the art method by virtue of its costs (Lessner, 2012).
Pursuant to decreasing in amount of conventional resources, in the far future biomass might be one of the significant method in order to producing energy. However, by developing nuclear power and the other renewable it won’t be happened. What do you think????

LESSNER, J. Biomass as an Alternative Fuels [Online]. Available: [Accessed 4/12 2012].

amir masoud bayat's picture

It is my prospective that the amount of biomass energy is
increasing in Europe since it is the cheapest way to meet the EU 2020 renewable
target. But it has several environmental risks. The huge amount of solid carbon
particles and gases are released into the air through burning biomass which has
negative impact on human health. Also, increasing the amounts of biomass is in
direct proportion with increasing the wood demand which lead to deforestation.
Forests are home for a variety of animals and plant species and many of these
species are endangered and some of them are extinct due to deforestation. Last
but not least, Biomass is an inefficient power since it requires a lot of wood
to generate very small amounts of energy. I strongly believe that the amount of
biomass energy should be reduced in order to safe nature and environment.

Ojo Oluwayimika Joseph's picture

Renewable energy currently contributes about a fifth of the world’senergy with biomass accounting or about 14% of this. Biomass, particularly residues from forestry, agriculture and food industries, is idealy seen as one of the most promising renewable alternatives for fossil fuel substitution in the European Economic Community(EEC). At present, biomass including municipal solid wastes contributes around 3% of EEC primary energy. By the year 2025, it is predicted that 84% of the world's population will reside in the developing countries, compared with 74% in 1980. Thus, it is predicted that the demand for biomass in developing countries will increase with population, although the proportion of energy use provided by biomass may remain constant on a global or even a country basis. Most people prefer to have gas, coal or electricity as their energy sources because of convenience and cleanliness, but the majority in the developing countries are unlikely to have access to these fuels in the medium term. They will have to rely on biomass as the fuel of development, and thus it is important that biomass energy be provided in a sustainable manner. Deforestation and devegetation, primarily in connection with land-clearing for agriculture, increase biomass supply in the short term, but can be detrimental to biomass availability and the environment in the longer term. They often result in land degradation as well as addition of CO2 to the atmosphere.  


The Contribution of Biomass to Global Energy Use. SPE   

Ojo Oluwayimika Joseph

Oil and Gas engineering

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