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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.
Biomass is catching on throughout the U.S. It already is 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 Energy Sources include:
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.
Generally speaking, biopower refers to using biomass to generate electricity. In some biomass industries, the spent steam from the power plant is also used for manufacturing processes or to heat buildings. Such combined heat and power systems greatly increase overall energy efficiency.
Fossil fuels are used by the petro-chemical industry to make a number of everyday and household products. But many of these products can be made from biomass. It’s simply a matter of converting the right source of biomass into the right chemicals for making plastics and other products that typically are made from petroleum.
Bioproducts that can be made from sugar-based biomass sources include antifreeze, plastics, glues, artificial sweeteners, and gel for toothpaste. Bioproducts that can be made from a syngas of carbon monoxide and hydrogen include plastics and acids—also used to make photographic films, textiles, and synthetic fabrics. Wood adhesives, molded plastic, and foam insulation can also be made from renewable biomass sources.
Biodiesel is made by combining alcohol with vegetable oil, animal fat, or recycled cooking grease. It can be used as an additive to reduce vehicle emissions or in its pure form as a renewable alternative fuel for diesel engines.
Biomass requires significant investment to further develop its potential. Refining and processing of biomass into energy remains expensive and experimental.
Energy crops are still land-intensive and require crop space to grow and harvest. However, set-aside lands such as environmental buffers could be put into use to grow energy crops.
Making a truly sustainable biomass industry means powering planting and harvesting through biomass energy. Currently, fossil fuel power is used.
Biomass is less energy dense than fossil fuel, meaning a much larger volume of raw material is required to create a unit of energy. This makes shipping and large-scale bioenergy production cost-inefficient, but it makes community-scale power generation viable, enabling rural or agricultural communities to be more energy self-sufficient.
Biomass production is a significant industry in Maryland, producing nearly 3 million tons of biomass annually and co-producing 462 gigawatt hours of electricity.
Maryland’s strong agricultural industry combined with federal research facilities and strong biotech sector position it to be a national leader in biomass innovation.
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:
See also the Chesapeake Bay Commission 2010 Biofuels Report (downloadable document).
Major facilities like the Beltsville Agricultural Research Center, the University of Maryland Biotechnology Institute along with state university research and large agri-business provide the knowledge, R&D, and workforce required to spin out promising new biomass technologies.
See the MCEC R&D in Maryland page for descriptions of organizations, projects, and institutions advancing research and development in all types of renewable energy resources.
The Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) lists renewable energy and efficiency news and websites specific to Maryland.