Education and Meanings

Biomass: what is it? Advantages and disadvantages

The biomass is the term used to name a type of organic matter that after the transformation process may be used as a source of energy. Not everything that nature produces can be considered and used as a source of energy, as part of the matter produced is used back in the environment itself.

The most known and used types of biomass are wood, sugarcane bagasse, eucalyptus, castor seed oils, cardboard, tree branches, among others. Biomass is also found as the main combustion source for new compositions and energy sources, such as biodiesel, biogas and bio-oil, for example.

Biomass, as a form of energy, stands out for its high energy density and for its conversion, storage and transport capabilities. Another similarity is the engines, which accept the use of biomass as energy, similar to other engines that use fossil energy, facilitating their integration. Thus, the replacement of ways to obtain energy has no significant impact on corporations, other than the positive environmental impact.

A natural cycle of biomass renewal occurs through the so-called carbon cycle. This burning of biomass or its derivatives causes the release of CO 2 into the atmosphere.

See here everything about Carbon Dioxide – CO 2 .

As in other processes, plants are responsible for transforming this CO 2 into carbohydrates, releasing oxygen. Plants carry out this transformation process by photosynthesis. Therefore, and because it is a compensatory process of nature, the use of biomass does not alter or damage the composition of the atmosphere, having no negative influence on the quality of the environment.

This beneficial aspect, however, is linked to actions without predatory character and within the limits stipulations. Although the use of biomass as an energy source is extremely beneficial, it is important to emphasize that the process of obtaining it must take place in a controlled manner and within current legislation.


The advantages of using biomass in energy production are its low cost, the fact that it is renewable, allows waste to be reused and is not polluting other energy sources, such as coal and oil. In addition to the financial benefit, there is a direct improvement in the quality of the environment, which is saved through the reuse of materials.

Biomass also offers the possibility of being produced from a wide variety of materials, providing versatility and security to the market, unlike fossil fuels such as oil, which do not renew and are extremely polluting.

Another advantage of biomass is that, by using these agricultural, industrial and urban organic residues for the production of electricity, they are obtaining a sustainable destination, unlike what happens with direct disposal. Most of the agricultural residues in Brazil are from soy, corn, rice and wheat, the first two being the raw materials frequently used for the production of biodiesel.

Furthermore, biomass is a renewable energy and does not pollute. It also presents itself in a cheap way, being the solid biomass less aggressive to the environment. It is highly reliable and the response to variations in demand is high and there is less corrosion of equipment (boilers, ovens, etc).

See everything about Renewable Energy here .

Like any product, biomass also has disadvantages.


The disadvantages of using biomass are:

  • Deforestation, in addition to the destruction of different habitats;
  • It has a lower calorific value compared to other fuels;
  • Liquid biofuels contribute to the formation of acid rain;
  • Difficulties in transporting and storing solid biomass.


Biomass, or biological mass, should be understood as the amount of organic matter that is extracted from a natural product in a given space. This term, despite being known prior to its scientific classification, gained prominence as concerns related to clean energy sources, with biomass being one of the most important representatives of this class.  

The energy obtained from biomass is the result of the decomposition of organic materials that can be of vegetable or animal origin, such as sugarcane bagasse, manure and wood, among others. The generation of energy through biomass contributes to the reduction of global warming and the greenhouse effect.


Biomass is an efficient clean energy option, presenting itself as a reliable source of energy production, capable of meeting local needs. Among the benefits, it has a renewable feature and low pollutant generation rates. Biomass is already used, for example, in alcohol production plants, where sugarcane bagasse residues can be the material to produce biomass and energy capable of supplying generators.

The use of biomass in Brazil has gained more space in recent years, especially with the implementation of biodiesel and the use of new technologies applied to clean energy generation. About 10% of the electricity generated in Brazil has biomass as its main source, with emphasis on the use of sugarcane bagasse.


The use of biomass as fuel can be attributed to its raw format, such as wood, agricultural, forestry and livestock residues, garbage and animal excrement. It is also used as a form of biodiesel, with castor oil and others.

Biodiesel is a biofuel conceived through vegetable oils (plants) or animal fat, with the objective of changing the diesel oil used in heavy vehicles, such as trucks and buses, and it already works as an energy source in many vehicles.

See here everything about Biofuels .


The conversion of biomass into energy can be done in four ways, namely:

Pyr lysis : Conversion Through this technique, biomass is exposed to high temperatures without there being the presence of oxygen, in order to cause the rapid decomposition thereof. What is left over from this process is a mixture of gases, liquids (vegetable oils) and solids (charcoal).

Gasifies ction a : In this process also occurs biomass exposure to intense heat, even without the oxygen. In this way, it is possible to obtain a flammable gas as a product. This gas can go through a filtering process to remove residual components of an industrial nature. The main difference in relation to pyrolysis is the fact that gasification requires a lower temperature and cannot obtain other forms of liquid or solid biomass.

Combustion a : In this process, the burning of biomass is also carried out at high temperatures, but now with the abundant presence of oxygen. A high pressure steam will be obtained in the process. This type of steam can be used especially in boilers or to move turbines. Its energy efficiency is in the range of 20 to 25% and it is one of the most common processes used to obtain clean energy.

Co-combustion : The main objective of this practice is to replace part of the mineral coal used in thermoelectric urns with clean energy from biomass, thus significantly reducing the emission of pollutants. The biomass performance range is between 30 and 37%. It is one of the conversion routes with the greatest economic gain and financial viability.


Biomass sources are considered to be all those products that can be transformed into energy through transformation processes. The main examples are sugarcane bagasse, oil derived from seeds, bark and wood.

Nowadays, the resource with the greatest chances of being used in the country as biomass in the generation of electricity is bagasse from sugarcane. The sugar-alcohol sphere develops a greater amount of waste and can be used as biomass, preferably in cogeneration systems.

Other vegetable varieties with great potential for the production of electricity are palm oil, which has an average annual productivity per hectare four times greater than that of sugarcane, babassu, buriti and andiroba. They appear as alternatives for the supply of clean electricity.

In the production of ethanol from sugarcane, approximately 28% of the cane is converted into bagasse, which is a biomass widely used in plants for the generation of low pressure steam, which is used in counterpressure turbines in mechanisms of extraction (63%) and electricity production (37%).

Other agricultural residues with high potential to be used as biomass in the production of electric energy are rice husks, cashew nut husks and coconut husks.

See more about the health benefits of Sugarcane  and Cashew Nuts .


As we have seen, biomass is used directly as fuel or through energy production through processes of pyrolysis, gasification, combustion or co-combustion of organic material that is found in an ecosystem.

For the definition of biomass in the context of energy generation, traditional fossil fuels are not covered, although these are also derived from the vegetable and mineral sector (examples are coal from the vegetable branch and oil and natural gas from the mineral branch), because these are the result of various transformations that require several million years to happen.

Biomass is considered a renewable natural resource, unlike fossil fuels.


Biomass can be found in solid, liquid and gaseous states, namely:


It is obtained from agricultural products and residues, forest residues and the biodegradable fraction of industrial and urban residues.


It is used through liquid biofuels, all of which originate in the so-called “clean energy crops”. We can use as an example the most famous of them: biodiesel. Biodiesel can be transformed from oils. We should also mention ethanol, produced through the fermentation of carbohydrates (sugar, starch, cellulose); and methanol, generated by the synthesis of natural gas.


This type can be found in agricultural effluents from agroindustry and urban areas, as a form of discarded waste. One of the main sources is the RSU (urban solid waste) landfills. The transformation of these residues can be achieved by the anaerobic biological degradation of organic matter that will result in a mixture of methane and carbon dioxide. These materials go through the combustion process to generate energy.


Burning biomass causes the release of CO 2 into the atmosphere. Plants, through photosynthesis, convert this carbon dioxide into carbohydrates, providing oxygen. Thus, the use of biomass, as long as it is not predatory, ends up not altering the constitution of the atmosphere.

The main examples of biomass

  1. corn,
  2. suck cane,
  3. wooden pallets,
  4. straw,
  5. rice husk,
  6. manure,
  7. began,
  8. biodegradable garbage,
  9. eucalyptus,
  10. green coconut shell


Biomass is used in the production of energy through procedures such as the of organic material established and gathered in an ecosystem.

In Brazil, for example, several sugar mills and distilleries are producing methane from what is left over from sugarcane bagasse. What results from this are gases used for the performance of stationary engines of plants and their trucks. The apparatus where the burning or digestion of biomass takes place is called a biodigester. The biogas obtained can be used immediately in the boilers, providing a greater amount of bagasse for the production of electric energy through thermoelectric plants, or generating 2,916 kW of electric energy power.


The use of biomass as an energy source follows the evolution of humanity itself. Long before oil was used as fuel, biomass already represented an important energy matrix. It so happens that, with the spread of the use of fossil fuel as a source of energy generation, biomass started to play a secondary role, especially in the last century. We can cite and affirm this context with the use of fire as a source of heat, even before there were vehicles or boilers.

Another example of use is wood, which was the main energy source and, even in the period of the Industrial Revolution, firewood in the steel industry, which was the gear for the evolutionary leap of the world economic system.

In steam technology, which had its peak in the 19th century, biomass played a key role with the objective of having mechanical energy with applications in sectors in industry and transport. It was this energy that moved the world.

Even with the beginning of the study of fossil fuels, such as oil and mineral coal, Firewood continued to play the role of an energy matrix, especially in tropical countries and where it is found in greater abundance in nature.

In Brazilian lands, biomass was used on a large scale, reaching close to 40% of primary energy production in Brazil, at the beginning of the country’s industrial development. With the collapse of oil supply that occurred in the 1970s and the search for more sustainable solutions, they made biomass return to the spotlight of energy production, thus boosting new technologies and uses, as was the case with biomass from alcohol, gas wood, biogas and vegetable oils that are currently part of the country’s energy unit.

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Robert Asprin, APD is a non-dieting Accredited Practicing Dietitian passionate about inspiring positive changes in eating and lifestyle behaviors to help improve health while nurturing relationships with food and body.

Robert Asprin

Robert Asprin, APD is a non-dieting Accredited Practicing Dietitian passionate about inspiring positive changes in eating and lifestyle behaviors to help improve health while nurturing relationships with food and body.

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