"Biomass" means any plant-derived organic matter available on a renewable basis, including dedicated energy crops and trees, agricultural food and feed crops, agricultural crop wastes and residues, wood wastes and residues, aquatic plants, animal wastes, municipal wastes, and other waste materials.
Bioenergy technologies use renewable biomass resources to produce an array of energy related products including electricity, liquid, solid, and gas fuels, heat, chemicals, and other materials. Bioenergy ranks second in renewable primary energy production and accounts for three percent of the primary energy production in the United States.
Biomass in Maryland is already working to co-produce 450 gigawatts of electricity - and that's just a start.
Biomass is an attractive petroleum alternative because it’s renewable, available anywhere in the world, and can be developed using environmentally friendly technologies and processes.
How it Works
Biomass is essentially an indirect form of solar energy. The carbohydrates and complex compounds of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen that result from photosynthesis turn back into carbon dioxide and water when they are burned. As long as the biomass used remains equal to the biomass grown, it is a sustainable and carbon neutral energy source.
Biomass is growing cleaner and more easily managed. Solid wastes are being converted to liquid and to gas fuels instead of being burned, and new “energy crops,” such as switchgrass and willow trees, are being grown for energy generation in order to move away from using food crops for energy generation, which drives food prices up and harms poorer regions disproportionately by directing resources to energy production rather than food production.
Biomass Energy Sources include:
- Energy crops: Trees and grasses - especially native species - are optimal, but corn has been favored and is most well-known.
- Trees: Some trees regrow rapidly after being cut back, and can continue to do so for as many as 30 years before the need to be replanted.
- Grasses: Perennial grasses that prevent erosion and do well in low nutrient soil, such as switchgrass.
- Food crops: Corn, sorghum, soybeans, and sunflowers are common sources for fuel. But these require annual replanting, maintenance, fertilizers, and energy and are not an optimally sustainable source of energy.
- Algae: These tiny aquatic plants have the potential to grow extremely fast in the hot, shallow, saline water found in some lakes in the desert Southwest. Forms of algae thrive on carbon dioxide, and emissions from power plants have been used to feed the plants, which are then used in biofuels.
- Biomass Residues: Basically, leftovers. Industries like forestry and agriculture produce plant and animal wastes in large quantities. Some wastes must be left behind to replenish soil with necessary nutrients, but too much waste left behind can lead to other problems, like runoff that has damaged rivers, streams, and the Chesapeake Bay.
- Human Wastes: Our own human waste - garbage and sewage - is also a source for biomass energy. We generate biomass wastes in many forms:
- Organic and biodegradable garbage (paper, food, leather, yard waste, woody waste from packaging and cardboard)
- Landfill gases given off by decomposition
- Sewage, in the form of methane greenhouse gas that is captured and burned for heat and power by sewage treatment plants
Biomass in Maryland
Biomass is catching on throughout the U.S. It already producing 1.2% of all our electricity and about 2% of the liquid fuel used in cars and trucks. But with the volume of waste we produce, we could power much, much more.
Biomass production is a significant industry in Maryland, producing nearly 3 million tons of biomass annually and co-producing 462 gigawatt hours of electricity.
- Much of the production involves corn and sorghum-based ethanol, leaving us with room to innovate in the planting of energy crops.
Maryland’s strong agricultural industry combined with federal research facilities and strong biotech sector position it to be a national leader in biomass innovation.
- Major facilities like the Beltsville Agricultural Research Center, the University of Maryland Biotechnology Institute along with state university research and large agri-business provides the knowledge, R&D, and workforce required to spin out promising new technologies.
Maryland is rich in raw biomass material from farming, fishing, aquaculture, and forestry.
- Biomass energy would be a sustainable, renewable, and plentiful source of homegrown energy.
Environmental concerns over the health of Maryland’s air quality and the Chesapeake Bay and its watershed can be addressed in part with biomass adoption.
Increasing biomass energy can produce dramatic environmental benefits:
- It reduces air pollution through carbon neutrality,
- Decreases water pollution, with fewer fertilizers and pesticides – and energy crops planted in environmental buffers on shorelines decrease agricultural runoff.
- Improved soil quality with plants that don’t draw nutrients from the soil
- Reduced landfill waste
- Reducing global warming
Chesapeake Bay Commission 2010 Biofuels Report (downloadable document)
Take Action to Support Biomass Energy
The key to supporting the growth of biomass energy in Maryland is staying informed about renewable energy policies and being sure that your Delegates and Senators know that renewable energy is important to you.
Check out our Legislative Agenda, and subscribe to our newsletter. We will help you stay on top of important issues as they develop.