Biomass is organic matter, such as wood by-products and agricultural wastes, that can be burned to produce energy, or converted into a gas and used for fuel. Biomass is a largely untapped energy resource found on every farm. With a little work, biomass can be easily converted into a valuable source of heat and energy. Imagine making money off of your manure, corn stalks, woody-brush, or even weeds and grasses. By utilizing more of the biological material that grows on the farm, you can gain more value from each acre. And because biomass is renewable, meaning we can easily replace harvested trees or crops, these energy-rich waste materials are sustainable indefinitely.
Biomass contains stored energy from the sun. Plants absorb the sun’s energy through the process of photosynthesis, and this chemical energy is then passed on to the animals and people that eat them. When burned, the chemical energy in biomass is released as heat. For example, burning wood waste or garbage produces steam for making electricity or for providing heat to industries and homes.
There are many ways to convert biomass to energy. Biomass can be converted to other usable forms of energy like methane gas or transportation fuels like ethanol and biodiesel. Methane, the main ingredient of natural gas, is found when carbon based wastes decompose. These types of wastes are found in landfills, agricultural byproducts and human waste. Crops like corn and sugar cane can be fermented to produce the transportation fuel, ethanol. Biodiesel, another transportation fuel, can be produced from left-over biomass products like vegetable oils and animal fats or through the processing of oil seeds.
Producing energy from biomass has both environmental and economic advantages. It is cost-effective when a local fuel source is used. Utilizing local resources results in local investment and employment. Furthermore, biomass can contribute to waste management by harnessing energy from products that are often disposed of at landfill sites. Eliminating disposal costs from your farm’s balance sheet or producing a valuable by-product, while simultaneously reducing your energy costs will result in significant savings and environmental benefits, all while helping to reduce dependence on fossil fuels.
Wood For Fuel On the Farm
The most common form of biomass is wood.
For thousands of years people have burned wood for heating and cooking. In the United States, wood and waste (bark, sawdust, wood chips, and wood scrap) currently provide only about two percent of the energy we use today. Wood biomass is burned to produce heat for space heating or energy production. There is no one-size-fits-all wood fuel specification for biomass heating. Each project will be different, and each heating system operator will have different expectations. Every state and even different areas within the same state will have different fuel type availability or potential. If you have a wood source reasonably available, a biomass system may be a good option for your farm operation. There are a variety of factors that need to be considered when choosing a biomass system and the types of fuel that will work the best with that system. Read on to see if a biomass system is a good choice for your farm.
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Manure As Energy
Farmers and ranchers can turn their waste into a great source of energy.
Waste that comes from plant or animal products is a great source of biomass that can be a valuable addition to your farming practices. Using waste products as a renewable resource can improve your bottom line by reducing waste disposal costs. Additionally, you will save money because your waste products will produce energy that you would otherwise purchase from the local utility. Some dairy (as well as swine, chicken, sheep and turkey) farmers use tanks called “digesters” where they transform the manure from their barns and animal confinement buildings into valuable biogas. Inside the digester, methane gas is separated from the liquid and solid waste. The methane gas can then be used to generate electricity for on-farm use or to sell to the electric power grid through net metering. Read on to see if a biodigester could be a valuable addition to your farming practices.
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Biofuels: Biodiesel and Ethanol Production
Biofuels are fuels, such as ethanol and biodiesel, that are made from biomass materials instead of fossil fuels.
These fuels are usually blended with petroleum fuels–gasoline and diesel–but they can be used alone. The popularity of these fuels is growing considerably due to the country’s increasing concern over fuel security and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from the transportation sector. Large-scale production and use of ethanol has been especially predominant in the Midwest, where processing plants have been built in close proximity to existing cornfields. By keeping transportation costs for the raw materials relatively low, ethanol has become a commonly used gasoline additive in the Midwest. The use and production of biodiesel, however, is in a more developmental stage and is possibly more suitable for on-site use on independent farms than for large-scale production. One of the main limits on widespread use of pure biofuels is that the only vehicles capable of running on pure biodiesel, also referred to as B100, are those with diesel engines. For this reason, biofuel production is especially well-suited to small- or medium-sized farms, where production could fuel on-site vehicles, most of which typically have diesel engines. Read on to find out more about producing biofuels on your farm.
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