Biomass fuels are an environmentally friendly substitute for fossil fuels. A “biomass” fuel can be any organic compound which can converted to energy. The chemical energy stored in these fuels is mostly in the form of carbon and hydrogen. The amount of carbon stored in dry wood is approximately 55% by weight.
There are many sources of biomass fuel. Some of the more common sources are:
1. wood waste from timber harvesting (slash piles),
2. agricultural waste such as peach pits, pistachio shells, and grape pulp, and
3. municipal wood waste (construction debris).
A biomass power plant runs on fuel which would otherwise be wasted. Logging slash piles are often burned in open piles, and wood construction debris goes to the dump. This wood can and should be converted into electricity.
Consider the renewable energy opportunity in logging slash piles. When wood is burned in an open pile, in an uncontrolled manner, the combustion is incomplete and inefficient. The emissions resulting from a bonfire are many times greater than would otherwise occur when that same fuel is burned in a controlled furnace. In burning a slash pile, we lose on two fronts: we get no energy from the fuel, and we get an increase in pollutants.