Biomass and waste utilisation

The term 'biomass' refers to the concept either of growing plants as a source of energy or using plant waste such as that obtained from managed woodlands or saw mills. It is estimated that the amount of fixed carbon in land plants is roughly equivalent to that which is contained in recoverable fossil fuels (The World Directory of Renewable Energy (2003), p. 42, James and James, London). Whilst the economics of converting biomass and waste to energy are still somewhat uncompetitive compared with fossil fuels, the pressure to reduce CO2 emissions combined with 'polluter pays' principles and landfill taxes for waste will change the economic balance in the medium term. Within the European Union the 'set-aside' land regulations have created an opportunity to put the land to use to create bio-fuels.

Increasing environmental pressures are stimulating the growth of waste to energy schemes. An ever increasing body of regulations is limiting the scope to dispose of waste in traditional ways. Sorted municipal solid waste (MSW) represents the greatest untapped energy resource for which conversion technology already exists.

There are three ways in which biomass and waste can be converted into energy:

• Direct combustion

• Conversion to biogas

• Conversion to liquid fuel.

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