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Biomass is a renewable form of energy derived from the sun’s energy via plant matter.
The conversion occurs through a process known as cogeneration, whereby fuel is combusted and turned into steam before being converted into either heat energy or electricity.
Sugar mills are a primary source of bioenergy production at its most efficient, converting sugar cane waste known as bagasse to electricity in order to offset their huge power costs.
The bagasse is burnt to produce steam to drive a turbine connected to an electrical generator that produces electricity that, if not used on site, is fed into the grid.
Even the waste water generated by the cogeneration process is recycled and passed through treatment systems before being siphoned off to irrigate local cane farms.
Learn about Bio Mass Power and Green Energy
Produced from waste too? Really?!
Bioenergy is also created from waste materials such as dead trees, sawdust, rice husks, household garden waste, animal manure and even food industry and abattoir wastes.
These waste products are transported to specialist plants to remove dirt and contaminants before being processed and placed in a fuel storage bin, ready to go through the cogeneration process.
Bioenergy offers significant environmental benefits, as it is an effective disposal method for waste that is otherwise a problem, and also reduces the amount of coal we need to produce for electricity production.
Biomass technology is also used to create biofuels such as ethanol from sugar cane, methanol from grain such as wheat, and biodiesel from oil seeds such as canola, all of which are widely used for cars and transport.
The downside however is that bioenergy has high transport and handling costs. Where manure and certain other waste products are involved, controlling the odour and potential disease that occur during the process can also be problematic.
Environmentalists have also raised concerns that biomass crops and plantations take away our land and water resources from natural habitats.
On the plus side, converting biomass for use in energy production does not pump extra carbon dioxide to the environment, it is simply a method of speeding up a process that occurs naturally. However, it is not greenhouse-neutral if waste matter needs to be transported to processing plants by trucks, which use fossil fuels.
Unlike solar and wind power however, biomass energy is often more efficient as energy can be stored and used when needed with negligible energy loss; storing electricity from wind turbines and solar power uses batteries, resulting in significant energy loss.
So long as there is sunlight to nourish the soil in which biomass sources grow, this energy source is entirely renewable.
There are currently more than 100 cogeneration plants active in Australia, meaning biomass is becoming more and more of a realistic option for Australians.
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