STORED ENERGY

08/24/2012 12:33

Every plant uses energy from the sun to grow. The energy stored in plants is the source of food and energy for human life. Humans use the energy of plants for cooking, making electricity, transportation, and heating. Long ago, wood was burned for cooking and heating and, in many places of the world, still is used to meet human needs. The fossil fuel on which many of the world’s people now depend is energy stored in plants millions of years ago.

            The unleashed energy from plants and plant materials known as biomass is being experienced daily in the parts of our country devastated by wildfires. Biomass can be used in controlled energy production. “Wood is still the largest biomass energy resource today, but other sources ... include food crops, grassy and woody plants, residues from agriculture or forestry, oil-rich algae, and the organic component of municipal and industrial wastes. Even the fumes from landfills (which are methane, the main component in natural gas) can be used as a biomass energy source.” National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL)

            In Stephenson County, Adkins Energy used newly developed technologies to release the stored energy of corn – a plentiful crop in the area – to successfully produce the liquid fuel we know as ethanol. The business celebrates ten years in business and continues to explore the opportunities of new research. Adkins Energy produces livestock feed from the by-products of energy production and recycles the water it requires.

            Biomass as a power source can have many sources. “The main biomass feedstocks for power are paper mill residue, lumber mill scrap, and municipal waste. For biomass fuels, the most common feedstocks used today are corn grain (for ethanol) and soybeans (for biodiesel). In the near future—and with NREL-developed technology—agricultural residues such as corn stover (the stalks, leaves, and husks of the plant) and wheat straw will also be used. Long-term plans include growing and using dedicated energy crops, such as fast-growing trees and grasses, and algae. These feedstocks can grow sustainably on land that will not support intensive food crops.”

            Biomass can be used to generate electricity in several different processes: direct burning, mixing with fossil fuels, forming a liquid or gas to burn, or natural decay producing methane under anaerobic conditions.

            Many useful products in our daily lives are made from nonrenewable petroleum. The same or similar products can, for the most part, be made from biomass. Bioproducts that can be made include antifreeze, plastics, glues, artificial sweeteners, and gel for toothpaste, plastics and acids, which can be used to make photographic films, textiles, and synthetic fabrics, wood adhesives, molded plastic, and foam insulation.

            We can be supportive of efforts for new businesses and jobs using biomass, a renewable resource. Learn more at http://www.nrel.gov/learning/

 

Della Moen, Earth Team Volunteer, NRCS/Stephenson Soil and Water Conservation District, an equal opportunity provider and employer, 08/22/12 (for publication on 08/25/12 in the Journal- Standard, Freeport, Illinois)  Della can be reached at info@stephensonswcd.org

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