Our next stop on the renewable energy tour starts with a quiz: what type of energy can you get from wood, crops and… poop? Got your guess? The answer is biomass!
It might surprise you, but you’ve probably seen biomass energy in action. Ever sat next to the warm glow of a fire? BOOM! You’ve been biomassed (that’s a word, right?)
Burn Baby! Burn!
Plants, animals and even our poop have energy stored in them. Plants convert sunlight into energy (you might know this as photosynthesis) and animals get energy when they eat food. Since animals can’t absorb all the energy they take in, some of that energy also ends up in their poop.
When you burn this organic matter, you release the energy that was stored in it. This energy can be used to keep you or your house warm and help you cook your food. If you have the right equipment, you can even use it to create electricity!
Wood is the most popular source of biomass energy but another good source is garbage. Power plants that burn garbage and turn it into energy are called waste-to-energy plants, and in some cases, they can generate as much electricity as coal. Unfortunately, creating electricity this way is pretty expensive, but it does help the planet because using garbage as an energy source means less of it ends up in landfills.
Pee-yew! What stinks?!
Burning organic matter isn’t the only way to create energy from organic materials. There’s another way, but we have to warn you…it’s stinky!
When certain organic matter (like poop, vegetable and fruit peelings, or that dinner you didn’t finish last night) breaks down or rots, it gives off a gas called biogas, which we can capture using HUGE vessels called anaerobic digesters (ADs).
Hey! Want to know something funny? Our bodies are like big AD machines. The food we eat gets broken down in our intestines, which creates a biogas (farts)!
After a little cleaning, the biogas collected in ADs becomes biomethane, which can be injected into the underground pipes of the local gas utility where it is sent to everyone’s home to be used in furnaces and hot water heaters to keep our families warm and cozy. This is what’s known as renewable natural gas (RNGs).
This is definitely a type of energy that we can get behind!
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