A less-polluting alternative

Adapted from Power To Spare CD ROM*

Many agricultural and forested areas around the world possess an abundant supply of biomass resources, including waste residues from wood products and crops. These resources can be usedthe same way that fossil fuels are burned in electrical power plants. Dedicated energy crops can be grown for the primary purpose of creating biomass material to convert to energy.

With the right soil and climate conditions farmers can grow a variety of dedicated energy crops, such as fast growing poplar trees, perennial prairie grass, and alfalfa. These crops can be planted either among existing crops or on lands unsuitable for traditional crops, like corn and soybeans. The market for energy crops can provide new, additional source of income for farmers and landowners. Conversion facilities maintained nearby process the harvested energy crops and to minimize transportation costs of the bulky resources. These facilities can provide jobs in the local communities.

Alfalfa to Energy

CLICK HERE to jump to a page that illustrates the step-by-step conversion of alfalfa to engergy.

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"Power Plants":
An Introduction to Biomass

The carbon dioxide and water that are created when biomass fuel is burned can be used by plants and trees to grow and produce more biomass fuel.

Natural resources used for biomass engery

WI Energy Bureau


Just like coal, biomass can be burned directly at the power plant or converted to a gas which is later burned in a power plant to generate electricity. But compared to coal, using biomass to make electricity is much less polluting. Biomass provides an important environmental advantage over burning fossil fuels. When plants are burned, they give off carbon dioxide, just like fossil fuels. Carbon dioxide is a pollutant that contributes to global climate change. However, when enough plants are grown to replace the biomass used as fuel, the amount of carbon dioxide that is given off will be absorbed by the growing plants.

The challenge for these large biomass projects is to improve, not degrade, the environment. Energy crops should be grown in a sustainable way, using few chemicals, reducing soil erosion and providing additional habitat for wildlife. Bill Grant, with the conservation group Izaak Walton League of America, believes biomass can meet this challenge. We know enough about sustainable farming practices that we can apply these to growing energy crops. By increasing our use of cleaner, renewable sources of energy, we can start to reduce the huge impact that fossil fuels have on our environment.

*Thanks to the Izaak Walkton League of America and to Lester Shen for permission and assistance in using these materials.


QUESTIONS: What plant resources in your watershed could be used for creating biomass energy? Are there any projects making use of these resources?

Center for Global Environmental Education
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