Biomass Thermal Energy FAQs
- What is biomass thermal energy?
- What is biomass then?
- Why use biomass for energy production?
- What types of energy can biomass produce?
- Why should biomass be used for heating?
- What is the potential of biomass heating in the U.S.?
- What technologies are available for biomass heating?
- Why should Congress be interested in growing the market for biomass heating?
- Why are tax incentives necessary?
What is biomass thermal energy?
Biomass thermal energy is the use of biomass for space and domestic water heating, process heat, and the thermal portion of combined heat and power.
What is biomass ?
In general, biomass is organic matter. When mentioned in the context of energy, biomass is renewable plant material and vegetation growing above the earth's crust or agricultural waste.
Why use biomass for energy production?
Some forms of biomass can be utilized to produce energy. Using biomass to produce energy has economic and environmental benefits, because biomass energy is:
- Renewable with sustainable forestry practices
- Carbon-neutral over a certain time frame
- A domestic resource
- A substitute for fossil fuels
- A source of economic development and rural job creation
What types of energy can biomass produce?
Energy use in the US is almost equally divided between electricity, transportation, and heating. Biomass is an option to produce all three:
- Thermal (Space heating and air conditioning, industrial process heating, domestic water heating)
Many forms of biomass can be used for the most efficient option: heating, including: densified biomass such as pellets or briquettes, wood chips,
agricultural residues, fast-growing woody energy crops such as willow and poplar, and grasses such as switch grass or
What is the potential of biomass heating in the U.S.?
In northern states that rely heavily on imported fossil energy for home and business heating, biomass has the potential to
greatly reduce our consumption of heating oil, propane, and natural gas. The Northeast in particular is extremely vulnerable
to heating oil price shocks and supply disruptions; there, biomass could sustainably offset as much as 25% of oil, or over 1
billion gallons annually, used to heat homes and businesses.
What technologies are available for biomass heating?
Extremely clean and highly efficient biomass combustion technology is rapidly becoming available in the domestic US
marketplace. Efficient fuel distribution systems are in place to expand the adoption of central heating systems in home and
business heating, industrial process heat, district heating of whole communities, and combined heat and power. This proven
technology has been widely deployed in Europe in homes, schools, municipal buildings, factories and any other large
institutional, commercial or industrial setting.
Why should Congress be interested in growing the market for biomass heating?
Thermal energy, or heat, represents roughly one-third of total U.S. energy consumption. It is used daily by homes,
businesses, and industrial facilities across the country, most frequently for space heating, water heating, or industrial
processes. Biomass can be an extremely efficient source of renewable energy for all of these heating needs.
To date, nearly all of the government grants and incentives for renewable energy support the electricity and transportation
sectors. Renewable sources of thermal energy, like biomass, have largely gone forgotten.
Encouraging the use of biomass for heating would help fill in the missing pieces of our nation’s energy policy. Biomass
thermal energy fulfills the same public policy objectives that are the basis and justification for renewable energy tax
incentives or subsidies. These include:
- Reducing consumption of foreign fossil fuels, and thereby increasing energy security
- Lowering emissions of greenhouse gases
- Strengthening local economic development and job creation through the domestic production of fuels, system
installation and service, and fuel distribution.
Why are tax incentives necessary?
Incentives are necessary to make biomass heating more competitive in the marketplace with non-renewable sources of
thermal energy. Because of relatively small market penetration, biomass heating systems can cost twice the amount of a
similarly sized oil or gas system. Additionally, fuel transport logistics have yet to reach critical mass with few customers
spread over large geographic areas, thus increasing the unit cost of fuel distribution. In time, with increasing market
penetration, these incentives can be scaled down or eliminated.
Below is a compilation of videos and audio files that highlight the use of biomass for thermal energy as well as links to other organizations related to biomass thermal energy.
Organizations of Interest
25 x '25 Initiative
“’25x'25’ is a rallying cry for renewable energy and a goal for America – to get 25 percent of our energy from renewable resources like wind, solar, and biofuels by the year 2025.”
Ag Biomass Council
“The Ag Biomass Council provides knowledge regarding the practical application and utilization of biomass conversion systems based on sound agronomics and environmental science.”
Alliance for Green Heat
"The Alliance for Green Heat promotes high-efficiency wood combustion as a low-carbon, sustainable, local and affordable heating solution. The Alliance seeks to make wood heat a cleaner and more efficient renewable energy option, particularly for those who cannot afford fossil fuel heat."
American Council on Renewable Energy
"ACORE is an organization of member companies and institutions that are dedicated to moving renewable energy into the mainstream of America’s economy, ensuring the success of the renewable energy industry while helping to build a sustainable and independent energy future for the nation."
Biomass Energy Research Association
“BERA is an association of bioenergy researchers, companies, and advocates that promotes education and research on renewable biomass energy and waste-to-energy systems.“
Biomass Energy Resource Center
“BERC seeks to achieve a healthier environment, strengthen local economies, and increase energy security across the United States through the development of sustainable biomass energy systems at the community level.”
Biomass Research & Development Initiative - U.S. Department of Energy
“The Biomass Research and Development Initiative (BRDI) is the multi-agency effort to coordinate and accelerate all Federal biobased products and bioenergy research and development.”
Council on Sustainable Biomass Production
“The Council on Sustainable Biomass Production (CSBP) is a multi-stakeholder group developing voluntary biomass to biofuel sustainability principles and standards for the production of feedstocks for second generation refineries (feedstocks for cellulosic refineries).”
Environmental and Energy Study Institute: Sustainable Biomass and Energy Program
“EESI seeks to educate policymakers about the potential economic development, energy security, and environmental benefits of sustainably tapping the country’s abundant biomass resources.”
European Biomass Association
“The European Biomass Association is a non profit Brussels based international organization whose mission is to represent bioenergy at EU level.”
European Biomass Industry Association
“EUBIA groups together market forces, technology providers, and knowledge centers, all of them active in the field of biomass.”
European Renewable Energy Council
“The European Renewable Energy Council (EREC) is the umbrella organization of the European renewable energy industry, trade and research associations active in the sectors of bioenergy, geothermal, ocean, small hydropower, solar electricity, solar thermal and wind energy.”
Interstate Renewable Energy Council
“IREC, formed in 1982 as a non-profit organization, supports market-oriented services targeted at education, coordination, procurement, the adoption and implementation of uniform guidelines and standards, workforce development, and consumer protection.”
National Renewable Energy Laboratory
“NREL is working to develop cost effective, environmentally friendly biomass conversion technologies to reduce our nation's dependence on foreign oil, improve our air quality, and support rural economies.”
The Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy's Biomass Program
“The Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy's Biomass Program works with industry, academia, and national laboratory partners on a balanced portfolio of research in biomass feedstocks and conversion technologies.”
Pellet Fuels Institute
“The Pellet Fuels Institute is a non-profit association that serves the pellet industry, which is comprised of pellet mills, pellet appliance manufacturers, and industry suppliers. The Institute active in educating consumers about the convenience and practicality of using wood pellet fuel in both residential and commercial applications.”
Pinchot Institute for Conservation
“The mission of the Pinchot Institute is to advance conservation and sustainable natural resource management by developing innovative, practical, and broadly-supported solutions to conservation challenges and opportunities.”
UN Foundation Bioenergy Initiative
"Our International Bioenergy Initiative (IBI) advances environmentally and economically sustainable strategies for harnessing biomass energy in ways that don't reduce fuel supplies."