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Biomass Energy

Biomass has generated energy from the time it created the first fire, and wood is still the largest bioenergy resource available today. Other sources include food crops, grasses, agricultural residues, manure and methane from landfills. Fossil fuels are simply ancient forms of biomass, but their finiteness and negative environmental impact makes it imperative to develop our renewable biomass resources for our energy needs. Because biomass can be converted to other usable forms of energy it is an attractive petroleum alternative.

Today, biomass resources generally fall into three types:

  • agriculture
  • forests
  • urban waste

Environmentally Friendly

The Carbon Cycle

Crops like corn are finely ground and separated into their component sugars. The sugars are distilled to make ethanol, which can be used as an alternative fuel, which releases carbon dioxide that is reabsorbed by the original crops.

Source: The Energy Information Administration

Because biofuels are vegetable oil based, gaseous and particulate emissions can be reduced with their use due to the fact that, as biomass matter, they are part of the natural cycle of assimilation of CO2 by plants for their growth and development. For this reason, the use of these fuels could result in a zero net gain in oxides of carbon emissions.

Biomass Energy in Texas

Texas is rapidly expanding its use of biomass in the production of fuel, electricity and biofuels. Biofuel production typically creates far more local jobs than other types of energy projects because biomass fuels are usually produced by local suppliers within close proximity to the site.

The Role of Renewable Energy Consumption in the Nation’s Energy Supply, 2003-2007

40% of consumption was petroleum.  Natural gas, 23%. Coal, 22%. Nuclear electric power, 8%.  7% of energy consumed was renewable.  Of that 7%, 1% was solar, 5% was wind, 5% was geothermal, 36% was hydroelectric and 53% was biomass.

Note: Sum of components may not equal 100 percent due to independent rounding.

Source: DOE’s Energy Information Agency, May 2008

According to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), biomass recently surpassed hydropower as the largest domestic source of renewable energy, and biomass consumption in electric utilities is expected to double every 10 years through 2030, with forest land and agricultural land being the two largest potential biomass sources.

Due to its large agricultural and forestry sectors, Texas has an abundance of biomass energy resources within a wide variety of land, climate and soil conditions. Texas biomass is already producing fuel, electricity, and ethanol and biodiesel biofuels while creating jobs from clean, sustainable sources of energy.

For a detailed overview of the use of biomass in Texas, refer to the “Biomass Overview” in the Texas Comptroller’s 2008 Energy Report.

Texas Biomass Energy Strategy

In July 2007, Texas Governor Rick Perry announced the Texas Bioenergy Strategy, and awarded a $5 million Texas Emerging Technology Fund grant to Texas A&M University for research and biofuel advancements. In a four year project, Texas A&M University and the Chevron Corroboration are partnering on research efforts to find ways to speed up harvesting of cellulose crops and turning them into biofuels. The Governor said that Texas will focus on creating biofuels through cellulosic feedstock such as switchgrass, wood chips and corn stems – rather than from corn crops, which are a staple for the Texas cattle industry.

Biomass to Biofuels

Texas is a leader in the rapidly expanding biofuels industry. Biomass produces ethanol, a gasoline alternative to petroleum based transportation fuel, and biodiesel, which is a diesel fuel alternative. Biobutanol, which is nearly as efficient as gasoline, is another alcohol fuel similar to ethanol, and can be produced from sugar cane, switchgrass or other biomass stocks.

A great amount of research by federal, state, university and private industry is currently focused on the conversion of non-grain crops, such as switchgrass and a variety of woody crops, to biofuels. A significant breakthrough is the conversion of non-food plant materials, such as agricultural wastes, saw dust, paper pulp, and switchgrass into cellulosic ethanol.

Biomass Energy Consumption

In its 2008 Annual Energy Outlook, The DOE’s Energy Information Administration projected biomass energy to increase from 2.97quadrillion Btu (quads) in 2006 to 5.52 quads in 2030, an 86% increase (one quad of energy is equivalent to 340,000 tank cars of crude oil). Biofuels are expected to nearly quadruple, growing from 0.5 quads in 2006 to 1.87 quads in 2030.

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