AS A SOLID FUEL
What is biomass?
Biomass is the term used to describe all the organic
matter, produced by photosynthesis that exists on the
earth’s surface. The source of all energy in biomass is
the sun, the biomass acting as a kind of energy store.
To make use of biomass for our own energy needs we
can simply burn it in an open fire to provide heat for
cooking, warming water or warming the air in our
home. More sophisticated technologies have been
developed for extracting this energy and converting it
into useful power and heat in more efficient and
Until relatively recently it was the only form of energy
which was used by humans and is still the main
source of energy for more than half the world’s
population for their domestic energy needs.
The extraction of energy from biomass is split into 3
Solid biomass - the use of trees, crop
residues, animal and human waste (although
Figure 1: Domestic biomass use in
Sri Lanka. Photo: Jean Long / Practical
not strictly a solid biomass source, it is often
included in this category), household or
industrial residues for direct combustion to provide heat. Often the solid biomass will
undergo physical processing such as cutting, chipping, briquetting, etc. but retains its
Biogas - biogas is obtained by anaerobically (in an air free environment) digesting
organic material to produce a combustible gas known as methane. Animal waste and
municipal waste are two common feedstocks for anaerobic digestion. See the Biogas
Technical Brief for more details.
Liquid Biofuels – these are obtained by subjecting organic materials to one of various
chemical or physical processes to produce a usable, combustible, liquid fuel. Biofuels
such as vegetable oils or ethanol are often processed from industrial or commercial
residues such as bagasse (sugarcane residue remaining after the sugar is extracted) or
from energy crops grown specifically for this purpose. Biofuels are often used in place
of petroleum derived liquid fuels. See the Liquid Biofuels and Sustainable Development
This technical brief looks at the use of solid biomass fuels, and their associated technologies.
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