Biomass is the oldest and the most commonly used renewable energy source. Biomass is a collective term for plant material that can be burned to produce energy. Examples include wood, straw and energy crops such as willow and poplar.
Solar radiation falling on the earth produces light. This is converted by plants and trees into organic materials by photosynthesis enabling this biomass to grow. The infra red rays associated with sunlight provide suitable conditions for growth such that plants and crops can be harvested in the autumn. Trees take much longer to mature – up to 50 years or more; however short rotation crops can be grown specifically for providing biomass for space heating or hot water. Waste from forestry and farming can also be used.
The most common use of biomass is to replace oil or brown coal boilers.
The advantages of using biomass are:
- it is a renewable energy source
- its widespread abundance
- its general local availability
- the management of production waste from forestry and farming
- the generation of local industry and employment
- cannot be used in emission free zones
- pellets need a finite storage space