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Biomass Energy

campfireHave you ever sat by a campfire or fireplace? If so, you've see biomass energy in action!

Biomass means "natural material." When biomass energy is burned, it releases heat, just like the wood logs in your campfire.  Biomass energy uses natural materials like trees and plants to make electricity. It can also mean waste products like trash.  It is the second-most common form of renewable energy we use in the United States, providing enough electricity to power more than two million homes.

Some of the material that can be used includes:

 

  • Leftover wood from sawmills
  • Leftover paper and wood waste from paper mills
  • Corn stalks, corn cobs and seed corn from farmsswitchgrass
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  • Paper and cardboard that can't be recycled in other ways
  • Fast-growing crops and trees

Switchgrass

Area farmers grow the switchgrass and then sell it to  local utilities for energy, as seen in this picture. The switchgrass is burned along with coal to make steam for the generators.

Biofuel

In Wisconsin, people are using electricity made at the local trash dump! When trash decomposes, it gives off a gas called methane. A machine called a microturbine captures the methane gas and uses it to run a small jet engine to produce electricity.

child plugging his nose

Anaerobic digesters

How about electricity from cow manure? Animal waste gives off methane gas too, and dairy farms in Iowa and Wisconsin are microturbines and a machine called a "digester" to turn the methane into electricity.
 

 

Links for teachers and parents: