Why Biomass and Bioenergy?

Benefits of Biomass

There are many benefits of using biomass when compared to conventional fossil fuels. Some of these benefits have been listed below:

When looking at these potential benefits in more detail, we can say that:

  • Trees, agriculture crops and energy crops can all be grown and harvested in a sustainable fashion. Harvesting biomass, following sustainable techniques, will ensure biomass is replenished continuously, leading to a renewable supply. Woody and other organic waste material can be turned into useful bio-products. For example:

  • Wood waste (e.g., sawmill residue) can be converted into chips and wood pellets.
  • Agricultural wastes can be turned into bioethanol and syngas.
  • Municipal wastes and sewage can be converted to biogas higher grade products.

  • By removing low-grade material from our forests, we can improve overall health and species composition, which over time will allow us to harvest and sell higher grade products

  • Transporting raw biomass over a long distance is not economical. This ensures that biomass is sourced locally, injecting money and creating new jobs in the local economy.

  • Biomass can create new markets for employment for farm and forest workers by establishing new processing, distribution and service industries in rural communities.

  • Bioenergy production creates more than three times as many local jobs as fossil energy, thereby contributing to the economic welfare of both urban and rural areas.

  • Biomass is a locally available fuel source that can increase a region’s energy independence and security while stimulating the local economy.

  • The combustion of biomass to create heat is carbon neutral because the carbon dioxide that is released when burning is recaptured from the atmosphere during the growth phase. In addition, current combustion technology utilizes high quality air filtration systems to minimize the particulate matter that is released into the atmosphere. The emissions are so clean that modern biomass plants today operate without visible smoke emissions from the flue stack.

  • The price of woody biomass per unit of thermal energy is far less than the price of oil. Currently, fuels costs associated with operating a large boiler system using wood chips/pellets results in significant cost savings when compared to oil.

  • Sustainability of Woody Biomass

    Woody biomass differs greatly from other renewable resources such as wind, solar and waterpower. In order for woody biomass to be considered a renewable resource, those that harvest woody biomass must do so in a sustainable manner. According to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), biomass from forest lands is considered ‘renewable’ if:

    1. The biomass is originating from land areas that are forests where:
      • The land area remains a forest, and
      • Sustainable management practices are undertaken on these land areas to ensure that the level of carbon stocks on these land areas does not systematically decrease over time; and
      • Any national or regional forestry and nature conservation regulations are complied with.

    2. The biomass is a biomass residue and the use of that residue in the project activity does not involve a decrease of carbon pools, in particular dead wood, litter or soil organic carbon, on the land areas where the biomass residues are originating from.

    In addition, third party certification organizations help to ensure sustainability of the forests. These include the Canadian Standards Association’s Sustainable Forest Management Standard (CSA), the Forest Stewardship Council Standards (FSC) and the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI). To learn more about sustainable forest practices follow the link below.

    Sustainable Forest Management in Canada

    Carbon Neutrality of Woody and Herbaceous Biomass

    Many people ask - “What’s the difference between burning fossil fuels and biomass?” AGE is the main difference. Fossil fuels are hydrocarbon deposits (petroleum, coal, natural gas) derived from organic matter from a previous geologic time. They are essentially fossilized biomass and differ from present day biomass in that they come from organic matter created millions of years ago, which has been stored below ground. Fossil fuels contain carbon that was removed from the atmosphere, under different environmental conditions, millions of years ago. When burned, the carbon is released back into the atmosphere. Since the carbon being released is from ancient deposits, and new fossil fuels take millions of years to form, burning fossil fuels adds more carbon to the atmosphere than is being removed. Woody and herbaceous biomass absorbs atmospheric carbon while it grows and returns it to the atmosphere when it is consumed, all in a relatively short amount of time. Because of this, biomass utilization is said to create a closed-loop carbon cycle.

    Additional Resources:

    Is Forest Bioenergy Good for the Environment?
    Biomass Sustainability Analysis
    Climate Change: Forests and Carbon Sequestration
    Electricity from Biomass: Renewable Energy from Fields and Forests
    Carbon Dioxide and Biomass Energy
    Forest Biomass and Air Emissions
    Air Emissions from Modern Wood Energy Systems