Biomass Energy: The Future

The use of biomass as energy goes all the way back to the discovery of fire. Biomass is any form of biological material that comes from living things. From burning wood to animal waste, biomass can be combusted to create energy.

Sugarcane (ethanol) is one of the leading forms of biomass energy in the United States. Currently, most forms of gasoline sold contain 10% cellulose ethanol. During the combustion of ethanol (which is made from sugarcane), heat and energy are released in a form that most vehicles can use. Ethanol does not release as much carbon dioxide and sulfur oxides into the air as do fossil fuels. Many new car dealerships are branding the term “Flex-fuel” vehicles that are able to use up to 85% ethanol (E85) in their engines. The Chevy Impala and the Ford Escape are two examples of cars sold in the United States with Flex Fuel capacities. However, in a recent study, only 10% of owners of Flex-fuel vehicles actually knew that their car could run on ethanol and even less (only 500,000 people in the United States) filled their tanks with E85 fuel on a regular basis. As you drive around today, E85 pumps are rarely available at any gas station. If we are going to further pursue sugarcane and ethanol as a clean energy source, E85 fuel has to be integrated into our society via knowledge and accessibility.

Biodiesel has also become one of the surging forms of biomass energy. Biodiesel can be made from vegetable oil, soy, mustard, palm oil, sunflower, and even algae. Many towns are beginning to use biodiesel engines to power public transportation. One example is the Chittenden County Transportation Authority in Burlington Vermont that runs all of its public busing on biodiesel. At times, Biodiesel is even cheaper per gallon than regular gasoline. Biodiesel is a great way to circumvent high international oil prices while cleaning up the environment. As developments progress in the field of biomass energy, both ethanol and biodiesel use will climb in the future.


By Brendan Mulry


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