From Open Energy Information

Organic matter, including: agricultural and forestry residues, municipal solid wastes, industrial wastes, and terrestrial and aquatic crops grown solely for energy purposes.
Other definitions:Wikipedia Reegle

Traditional and Thermal Use of Biomass

Traditional use of biomass, particularly burning wood, is one of the oldest manners in which biomass has been utilized for energy. Traditional use of biomass is 14% of world energy usage which is on the same level as worldwide electricity usage. Most of this consumption comes from developing countries where traditional use of biomass accounts for 35% of primary energy usage [1] and greater than 75% of primary energy use is in the residential sector. The general trend in developing countries has been a decrease in traditional biomass use since the beginning of the industrialized era, and the United States has followed this trend [2]. However, some industrialized countries have turned to large scale biomass thermal plants that heat large buildings and complexes of buildings and supply heat for industrial processes. These facilities are mostly found in Europe especially Nordic countries in order to meet Europe's 20-20-20 emissions goals. [3]

The two types of energy conversion technologies that are used for biomass thermal and combined heat and power (CHP) plants are direct combustion and gasification systems. Direct combustion systems are the most common and have the most mature and commercially available technologies. A few gasification systems are commercially available, but more advanced technologies are in developmental and demonstration stages particularly two-stage gasification systems. The continued development of gasification technologies may increase the attractiveness of biomass thermal systems due to their relatively lower emissions and higher efficiency, in comparison with fossil fuel-based technologies. However, the gasification technologies may have more impact on electricity generation and CHP systems than purely thermal systems because electricity and CHP generally require the cleaner gases that gasification produces. Generally, biomass boilers can tolerate the greater impurities created during the direct combustion process and do not require the specialized fuels and low moisture content that gasification systems need [4] Companies in European countries, especially those with a tradition of using biomass for thermal energy, have been at the forefront of the innovation and commercialization of advanced thermal biomass systems and have a much maturer market for biomass heating systems [3].

Bio-Based Plastics and Chemicals

Apart from using biomass for energy, food, and construction, more and more research has turned toward making plastics and chemicals from biomass feedstock. The production of bio-based products (particularly plastics and chemicals) seeks to address increased oil prices, expectations of oil scarcity, and environmental concerns. The term “bio-based products” refers to products that come from biological feedstock whereas the term “bioproducts” can refer to products that are biodegradable but may not be from bio-based feedstock. Research on bio-based plastics and chemicals began in the 1860’s but decreased in the 1920’s and 1950’s due to the discovery of petroleum and its use as a synthetic polymer. [5] Currently, most plastics and chemicals are petroleum-based but could potentially be made from biomass. [6] Bio-based feedstocks produced 3% of chemicals in 2009 [7] and 0.3% of plastics in 2007, worldwide. [6] Both of these percentages are expected to increase as petroleum becomes scarcer and environmental concerns increase, but the amount of increased production of bio-based products depends heavily on the price and availability of petroleum, the continued development of production processes, and the price of biomass feedstock. [8]

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Biochar is created utilizing a process called pyrolysis, in which biomass undergoes direct thermal decomposition in the absence of oxygen. Instead of releasing carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, as when plant material decomposes naturally in the presence of oxygen, the production of biochar removes these circulating gases and stores them in a high-carbon, fine-grained residue. The result is a stable, soil-like form that is carbon negative.


  1. Victor, N. and Victor, D. 2002.  "Macro Patterns in the Use of Traditional Biomass Fuels"
  2. 3.0 3.1 ABS Energy Research. Biomass Report. 2009.
  3. Peterson, D. and Hasse, S. 2009.  "Market Assessment of Biomass Gasification and Combustion Technology for Small- and Medium-Scale Applications" NREL Technical Report, NREL/TP-7A2-46190, July 2009.
  4. Shen, L., Haufe, J., and Patel, M. 2009.  "Product Overview and Market Projection of Emerging Bio-Based Plastics PRO-BIP 2009" Utrecht, The Netherlands: Utrecht University.
  5. 6.0 6.1 Sanders, J., Scott, E.,Weusthuis, R., and Mooibroek, H. 2007.  "Bio-refinery as the bio-inspired process to bulk chemicals." Macromolecular Bioscience 7, pp. 105–117.
  6. Vijayendran, B. 2010.  "Bio Products from Bio Refineries-Trends, Challenges and Opportunities" Journal of Business Chemistry, 7(3), pp. 109-115.
  7. Patel, M., Crank, M., Dornburg, V., Hermann, B., Roes, L., Hüsing, B., Overbeek, L., Terragni, F. and Recchia, E., 2006.  "Medium and Long-Term Opportunities and Risks of the Biotechnological Production of Bulk Chemicals from Renewable Resources – The Potential of White Biotechnology. The Brew Project." Utrect, The Neatherlands: Utrecht University.