In her most recent post (NYT), Elisabeth Rosenthal outlines recent efforts by the US Department of Agriculture and the Department of Energy to provide seed funding to fledgling businesses in the biomass fuel industry.
Discussions of biofuels have been in the news a lot in recent years. In the U.S., that has primarily focused on creating ethanol from corn, or biodiesel from soybeans, although many companies are working on second-generation strategies for creating liquid fuels. While biomass is commonly used for heat (think firewood), Rosenthal’s post points out that large-scale use of chopped up plant material (biomass) to create electricity and heat is not widespread. Interestingly, Brazilian ethanol derived from sugarcane is often argued to have an attractive energy balance because the left over plant material is used to fuel the energy-hungry distillation process.
With the emergence of biomass-derived electricity and heat in energy portfolios around the world, questions about its use may arise. Questions about the scalability for use in bigger cities (cities with a smaller proportion of agricultural prevalence, especially those that are long distances from where the biomass would be harvested), about emissions, and about issues of the use of agricultural lands for fuel versus food.
A video we previously released describes the current proportions of the US energy portfolio, including oil, wind and biomass:
Through our Energy Media Challenge, we at Dialogue Earth will be working to increase public understanding on various energy sources, including biomass. Our goal is to become a trusted source for answers to questions like those mentioned here.