Biomass is a renewable energy resource derived from the carbonaceous waste of various human and natural activities. It is derived from numerous sources, including the by-products from the timber industry, agricultural crops, raw material from the forest, major parts of household waste and wood.
Biomass does not add carbon dioxide to the atmosphere as it absorbs the same amount of carbon in growing as it releases when consumed as a fuel. Its advantage is that it can be used to generate electricity with the same equipment or power plants that are now burning fossil fuels. Biomass is an important source of energy and the most important fuel worldwide after coal, oil and natural gas.
Traditional use of biomass is more than its use in modern application. In the developed world biomass is again becoming important for applications such as combined heat and power generation. In addition, biomass energy is gaining significance as a source of clean heat for domestic heating and community heating applications. In fact in countries like Finland, USA and Sweden the per capita biomass energy used is higher than it is in India, China or in Asia.
Biomass fuels used in India account for about one third of the total fuel used in the country, being the most important fuel used in over 90% of the rural households and about 15% of the urban households.
Instead of burning the loose biomass fuel directly, it is more practical to compress it into briquettes (compressing them through a process to form blocks of different shapes) and thereby improve its utility and convenience of use. Such biomass in the dense briquetted form can either be used directly as fuel instead of coal in the traditional chulhas and furnaces or in the gasifier. Gasifier converts solid fuel into a more convenient-to-use gaseous form of fuel called producer gas.
Scientists are trying to explore the advantages of biomass energy as an alternative energy source as it is renewable and free from net CO2 (carbon dioxide) emissions, and is abundantly available on earth in the form of agricultural residue, city garbage, cattle dung, firewood, etc. Bio-energy, in the form of biogas, which is derived from biomass, is expected to become one of the key energy resources for global sustainable development.
At present, biogas technology provides an alternative source of energy in rural India for cooking. It is particularly useful for village households that have their own cattle. Through a simple process cattle dung is used to produce a gas, which serves as fuel for cooking. The residual dung is used as manure.
Biogas plants have been set up in many areas and are becoming very popular. Using local resources, namely cattle waste and other organic wastes, energy and manure are derived. A mini biogas digester has recently been designed and developed, and is being in-field tested for domestic lighting.
Indian sugar mills are rapidly turning to bagasse, the leftover of cane after it is crushed and its juice extracted, to generate electricity. This is mainly being done to clean up the environment, cut down power costs and earn additional revenue. According to current estimates, about 3500 MW of power can be generated from bagasse in the existing 430 sugar mills in the country. Around 270 MW of power has already been commissioned and more is under construction.