We’re facing a worldwide energy crisis, but biomass might be a revolutionary renewable resource we’re looking for.
Tim Volk, a scientist at SUNY-ESF, profiles biomass and the potential benefits that this resource might hold.
Dr. Tim Volk is a senior research associate at The State University of New York’s College of Environmental Science and Forestry. His research interests are in management and sustainability of short-rotation forestry, agroforestry, phytoremediation, international forestry. He is a widely published author on environmental issues and earned his Ph.D. at The State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry with a focus on Short-Rotation Forestry in 2002.
For more on The Willow Project at SUNY-ESF, click here.
Biomass is any plant derived organic material available on a renewable basis including agricultural crops and residues, forest products, algae and even municipal waste. It’s also the largest single source of renewable energy in the United States.
Biomass can be used to produce heat, electricity, biofuels, and chemical products currently made from oil.
Because biomass comes from living or recently living plant matter that has taken up CO2 from the atmosphere it is considered carbon neutral. That means that no new CO2 is added to the atmosphere when the biomass is grown and used to produce energy. Think of biomass as CO2 catch and release.
The US department of Energy has projected that the U.S. can produce over one billion tons of biomass a year that we can use for energy. That would be enough to replace about 1/3 of all the transportation fuel in the U.S. dramatically reducing our dependence on foreign oil.
In NY almost three decades of research has focused on developing fast-growing shrub willows. There are more than 1,200 acres of willow now growing in northern NY. It will be used in power plants to generate renewable electricity. An advantage of the willow biomass crop effort is that it is a home grown source of energy reducing transportation costs and creating jobs.
Production of biofuels from material that is not currently used for food is already a reality. Project Liberty in Iowa has a new 20 million gallon per year production plant converting corn cobs and other harvesting leftovers into biofuels.
As you can see, biomass offers both environmental and economic development benefits and has the potential to be an even larger source of renewable energy in the future.