Renewable Energy Review: Bioenergy

What is it? Bioenergy is a type of renewable energy derived from biomass to create heat and electricity. It is also used to produce liquid fuels used for transportation, such as ethanol and biodiesel. Bioenergy creates “biofuels,” such as ethanol and biodiesel. Biomass is defined as any organic material which has stored sunlight in the form of chemical energy—this can include everything from wood, wood waste, and straw to manure and other byproducts of various agricultural products.


How is it sourced? Bioenergy is sourced in a variety of ways. Users can directly burn the biomass or capture the methane gas produced by natural decomposition of organic material.


How is it used? Bioenergy can be used in vehicles (ethanol and biodiesel) and in farm operations, working to convert waste from livestock into electricity. This is done using a small, modular system. Additionally, manufacturing facilities can be equipped to burn biomass directly, allowing for the recycling and reuse of material (for example, paper mills can use wood waste to produce electricity and steam for heating). If equipped, towns can also tap the methane gas created by the anaerobic digestion of organic waste in landfills.


Are there any downsides? Bioenergy generates the same amount of carbon emissions as fossil fuels. However, the plants grown as biomass remove a roughly equal amount of CO2 from the atmosphere, helping to keep the environmental impact relatively neutral. However, organizations such as Greenpeace and the Natural Resources Defense Council have critiqued the use of bioenergy for the harmful impact it may have on forests and the climate (as a result of the CO2 emissions).