Imagine using dead trees or manure to keep the lights on in your house! It may sound like the stuff of science fiction, but it’s a technology that’s used in a variety of applications all over the world, and it’s one of the most ancient technologies used by mankind for energy. We’ve all warmed ourselves by a crackling fire and used its flames to cook our food. That wouldn’t have been possible without burning wood, which is just one of many types of biomass fuel. Biomass refers to plant or animal matter that, when it decays, produces a gas that can be used to make heat or generate electric power.
There are several biomass conversion technologies. Plant matter such as trees, grasses, agricultural crops and other biological material can be used as a solid fuel or converted into liquid or gaseous form, then used as fuel to generate electric energy. Biomass provides a clean, renewable energy source that produces fewer air emissions than traditional fossil fuels like coal, which releases carbon dioxide into the air. These carbon dioxide emissions are blamed for an increase in the world’s greenhouse gas levels. Fuel from manure, wastewater treatment plants and landfills are excellent biomass sources. The Tucson Electric Power’s Landfill Methane Production, which generates 30,000 MWh annually, is an example of biomass energy production. Since 1999, this operation has displaced the use of more than 100,000 tons of coal. Salt River Project’s Tri-cities Landfill Generating Facility has a 4 MW capacity and it is estimated that 100 to 300 MW of electric generation capacity using biomass could be added to Arizona’s resource mix in future years.
As long as we have animals, plants, and wastewater treatment plants we will have an ample supply of this sustainable resource.