Switchgrass crops can be harvested to make biofuels. Credit: Warren Gretz

We have used biomass energy or bioenergy – the energy from organic matter – for thousands of years, ever since people started burning wood to cook food or to keep warm.

And today, wood is still our largest biomass energy resource. But many other sources of biomass can now be used, including plants, residues from agriculture or forestry, and the organic component of municipal and industrial wastes. Even the fumes from landfills can be used as a biomass energy source.

The use of biomass energy has the potential to greatly reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. Biomass generates about the same amount of carbon dioxide as fossil fuels, but every time a new plant grows, carbon dioxide is actually removed from the atmosphere. The net emission of carbon dioxide will be zero as long as plants continue to be replenished for biomass energy purposes. These energy crops, such as fast-growing trees and grasses, are called biomass feedstocks. The use of biomass feedstocks can also help increase profits for the agricultural industry.

Biomass Energy technology applications:

  • Biofuels
    Converting biomass into liquid fuels for transportation.
  • Biopower
    Burning biomass directly, or converting it into a gaseous fuel or oil, to generate electricity.
  • Bioproducts
    Converting biomass into chemicals for making products that typically are made from petroleum.


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Biomass energy content for this section provided in part by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and the Department of Energy.