How Biomass Energy Works

Industries, such as agriculture, forestry, municipalities, colleges and universities, food processors, hospitals and medical centers, and many more, create billions of tons of waste. In the past, there were few safe, cost-effective ways to use waste productively or dispose of it. Today, however, we have renewable energy technology that makes waste potential biomass energy resources.

Biomass is the organic byproduct that is left over from plants, animals and waste products from organic sources, such as garbage, wood, crops, landfill gas and alcohol fuels. When burned, the chemical energy in biomass is released as heat, which can be converted into biofuels and/or biogas and finally, into useable energy such as fuels, electricity or heat.

The basic process of biomass energy, or bio energy, has to do with photosynthesis. Plants contain chlorophyll, which absorbs carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and water from the ground. When animals eat the plants, some of that energy is transferred. We call it renewable energy because the carbon dioxide and water is then released back into the atmosphere, and is used to grow more plants and crops to start the cycle again.

Research has proven that using biomass as a source of energy has several benefits over fossil fuel usage, and helps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. For it to be produced, the organic material must undergo a biomass conversion process, of which there several routes to take. 


Also called anaerobic digestion. Bio-digestion is the process whereby in the absence of air, bacteria breaks down organic material to create biogas, which is converted into energy.


In this process, organic matter is burned to generate heat, which can be used to create electricity by heating water to produce steam. The steam moves a turbine, by turning a shaft, which activates a generator that produces electricity.


Fermentation converts sugar from organic material into alcohol, commonly known as ethanol, with the help of yeast.


In gasification, organic matter is converted into carbon dioxide, hydrogen, and carbon monoxide, using heat (without combustion) with a limited amount of steam or oxygen. The result is a gas mixture is a form fuel, called syngas or producer gas, which can be used for heating, generation of electricity and many other functions.


In pyrolysis, organic material decomposes at high temperatures without oxygen. Without oxygen, the organic matter doesn’t burn and instead, breaks down into a liquid called bio-oil, or a solid, either bio-char or syngas.

Waste-to-energy company SynTech Bioenergy uses a gasification process, closely related to pyrolysis to provide distributed, renewable heat and electricity. Fully automated compact generators that measure 30 ft x 30 ft (10m x 10m), are installed onsite and remotely controlled. Inside the reactors, an advanced thermal conversion, without flame burning or combustion, creates ultra clean tar-free syngas from almost all types of biomass, agricultural waste and municipal solid waste (MSW). The finished syngas fuels modified internal combustion engines and gas-fired micro-turbines, producing electricity, power and heat in a carbon negative zero waste footprint.

The result electricity can be directly sold back to the grid or even potentially supply a property’s entire power needs.

Jason Erickson