"Biomass: Any organic matter that is available on a renewable or recurring basis, including agricultural crops and trees, wood and wood residues, plants (including aquatic plants), grasses, animal residues, municipal residues, and other residue materials."
- the Bioenergy Feedstock Information Network,
managed by Oak Ridge National Laboratory
Biomass has been used as a source of energy for thousands of years, helping to make human development as we know it possible. Today, we use bioenergy in myriad ways from creating electricity on a large scale to providing warmth and something to cook over around a simple campfire. Along that scale are new kinds of combustion equipment that compete with the best fossil fuel-fired equipment in terms of high efficiency and low emissions (see Comparing Combustion Equipment and other pages in our Heating with Wood section), with the advantage of being very low net carbon—because even though wood is almost 100% carbon-based, trees are part of the natural carbon cycle.
In a sustainable cycle, when a dead tree rots or is burned, the carbon released is recaptured by other trees. This is in stark contrast to fossil fuels, which represent decomposed plants and animals that died millions of years ago and have been turned into liquid and solid matter such as oil, gas, and coal, which we have been extracting at rates that are not sustainable—simply put, using these "fossil fuels" through the industrial revolution to today has put far more carbon into the atmosphere than trees (or other biomass) can absorb. Which is why, if used responsibly, keeping emissions low and making sure we allow for more growth than harvest, bioenergy is considered an important part of the solution to climate change.
Last updated July 12, 2021