Biomass to Biofuels: Garbage to Energy

A new report from Energy Business Reports explores the energy potential of trash.

Save those rinds, grounds, and scraps! You may be able to use them to heat your home or power your car. Garbage is a viable source of renewable energy, and the energy potential of biomass is the subject of the latest report from Energy Business Reports.

Biomass, the renewable energy resource derived from waste, comes from both human and natural activities and uses by-products from the timber industry, agricultural crops, raw material from forests, household trash, and wood. Like wind, solar and other forms of renewable energy, biomass produces fewer emissions than its fossil fuel counterparts. After fossil fuels, biomass is the most widely used fuel in the world.

Traditional use of biomass dwarfs its modern applications. However, biomass is regaining importance in the developed world for applications such as combined heat and power generation. In addition, biomass energy is gaining significance as a source of clean heat for domestic heating and community heating applications.

A principal advantage of biomass is its low greenhouse gas emission characteristic. Biomass does not spew carbon dioxide into the atmosphere as it absorbs an equal amount of carbon in growing as it releases when consumed as a fuel. Biomass contains less sulfur than coal, and consequently produces less SO2. It can be used to generate electricity utilizing the same equipment that is used to combust fossil fuels, and its use cuts down on the need for landfills, has a positive impact on watershed quality, retards the risk of wildfires by thinning forests, and generates jobs in the local economy.

Feedstocks used to produce biofuels include corn (the predominant feedstock in the U.S.), sugarcane or sugar beets (common in Europe), various grains, rapeseed or oil seed, soybeans, as well as other bio-sources found throughout the world. Biofuels exhibit a wide range of physical, chemical, and agricultural/process engineering properties. Moisture content is probably the most important determinant of energy value. Despite the wide range of possible sources, biomass feedstocks are remarkably uniform in many of their fuel properties, compared with coal or petroleum.

Biomass can be converted into a range of fuels and used in numerous applications. Two types of ethanol are produced in the United States: fermentation ethanol and synthetic ethanol. In addition, biodiesel, bio-oil, and biofuel from synthetic gas are produced commercially.

Grains and oilseeds are the primary feedstocks used to produce the ethanol, biodiesel, and bioproducts consumed today. Food and feed processing residues and tertiary post-consumer residues are also used to generate a modest amount of electricity. These agriculture-derived biomass resources account for nearly 25% of the current biomass consumption.

It is becoming increasingly clear that reliance on oil as the principal source of fuel is unsustainable over the long-term. A shift towards any alternative fuel is going to require a governmental commitment to emerging technologies. Furthermore, integrating alternative fuels into the mass market will have broad impacts on existing policies.

This report examines the role of government in the biofuel industry, as well as the growth drivers and obstacles to be overcome in the market. It describes the various conversion technologies - including drying, torrefaction, pyrolysis, gasification, combustion and various types of hydrolysis - and presents a comprehensive overview of the economics of the biofuels industry. The report also describes major biofuel programs underway and lists key players in the industry.

This report is published by Energy Business Reports (, an energy industry think tank and leading source for energy industry information and research products. Energy Business Reports publishes and markets leading-edge industry reports in all sectors of the energy markets.