Biomass

TOPICS:Development of new biomass for biorefining | Biomass characterization |
Biomass preprocessing | Systems analysis and logistics | Life cycle analysis

All plant material derives its primary energy from the sun and through photosynthesis produces biomass. Broadly speaking, biomass includes all plant and animal derived materials such as wood, grass trimmings, starch, sugars, oils, and animal wastes and manures. Biomass contains both energy (heat value that allows you to burn it) and chemicals (such as cellulose, hemicellulose, lignin, sugars and starch). Historically, humans have exploited biomass to improve our quality of life by making products such as pulp and paper, sugar and food products (such as alcohol for consumption), structural products for building, etc. Humans have also used biomass for heating (from home wood stoves to large industrial boilers) and chemical production (e.g., wood vinegar, alcohols and other chemicals from wood).

The advent of oil refining in the early 20th century caused a decline in further developments in biomass conversion. This trend has changed recently and a renewed interest in biomass has come about for the following reasons:

  1. Biomass is a source of renewable energy and chemicals, and although other renewable energy options exist (like hydro, wind, solar etc), biomass is our only source of renewable chemicals.
  2. Biomass (unlike petroleum) occurs in a distributed manner worldwide.
  3. Biomass is near carbon-neutral as a source of chemicals or energy.
  4. Biomass growing can be done in a sustainable manner and is linked to rural economic development.

The USDOE and USDA recently released a report commonly referred to as the Billion Ton Report which concluded that approximately 1.4 billion dry tons of biomass can be generated in the United States on a sustainable basis without negatively affecting current uses of biomass. This amount does not include any present uses of biomass for an industrial application (e.g. pulp and paper production). It is anticipated that this amount of biomass can displace over 30% of our current petroleum consumption.

At the University of Georgia Biorefining and Carbon Cycling Program, we have focus areas which address developing new biomass sources (like grasses, algae, etc) and characterization and processing of biomass to produce energy, fuels, and products. Additional our faculty, staff and students are studying system and life cycle impacts of these new products and their processes.