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How does biomass energy work?

How biomass energy works depends on the fuel. There are different processes.

The most obvious form of biomass energy production is wood burning. In this, wood pellets, chips or logs are burned in stoves or biomass boilers to create warmth in a single room or to power central heating and hot water systems. This process can be used on a small-scale level in individual homes, or on a much larger scale in businesses and bigger buildings.

Biomass energy is also created in waste-to-energy plants. Here, waste organic matter that would otherwise end up in landfill (food waste for example) is burned on a large scale to produce steam. This steam rises, which spins turbines to create electricity.

While this usually takes place in specialist plants, some manufacturing businesses burn their own waste materials to create energy that contributes to their power needs.

Another form of biomass energy is biogas. When organic waste such as manure, sewage waste and agricultural waste breaks down it creates a mixture of methane gas and carbon dioxide. This is called anaerobic digestion.

Anaerobic methane digesters trap large amounts of this waste at high temperatures with reduced oxygen to speed up the breakdown process. This creates the gases more quickly than natural decomposition.

The clever technology then traps the resulting gas, which can then be used for the same purposes as natural gas: heating, cooking and so on. Some vehicles even use the gas as an alternative fuel.

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