Biomass conversion (Encyclopedia of Environmental Issues, Revised Edition)
Plants and algae use solar energy and transform carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere into their biomass (also called primary biomass). Human beings have converted biomass into energy for centuries. For example, burning biomass in the form of wood is the oldest form of such conversion. Biomass can also be converted into other energy sources or fuels—for example, through fermentation to alcohols (ethanol or butanol) or biogas and through gasification to a substitute for natural gas. In addition, biomass such as plant oil can be transformed by the chemical reaction of transesterification into biodiesel, a diesel fuel substitute. The processing of primary biomass by organisms creates secondary biomass sources, such as animal manure and other wastes. Several countries around the world use incinerators to convert this kind of biomass into electricity. Biomass is produced naturally (for example, in forests) and agriculturally (for example, agricultural residues and dung).
The processes used to convert biomass into fuels can have both positive and negative environmental impacts, but the positive influences on the environment outweigh the negative ones. It is widely recognized that the use of fossil fuels is the leading cause of global climate change due to carbon dioxide release. Biomass conversion does not result in net CO2 emissions because it releases only the amount of CO2 absorbed in the biomass during plant growth. Biomass conversion...
(The entire section is 439 words.)
Further Reading (Encyclopedia of Environmental Issues, Revised Edition)
Bourne, Joel K. “Green Dreams.” National Geographic, October, 2007, 38-59.
Hall, David O., and Joanna I. House. “Biomass: A Modern and Environmentally Acceptable Fuel.” Solar Energy Materials and Solar Cells 38 (1995): 521-542.
Wright, Richard T. Environmental Science: Toward a Sustainable Future. 10th ed. Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 2008.
(The entire section is 48 words.)