Biomass and Biofuels

  • Biomass- refers to organic matter that can be used as a renewable source of fuel or energy.  Biomass includes material from living or recently living organisms:  plant material such as wood and agricultural by-products, animal products, manure for example, municipal wastes and human garbage are included.  Also, chemical products from organisms, such as fibers, oils, and alcohols extracted or derived from biomass can be used as biofuels.  Even living organisms, such as algae, are being grown in large quantities to serve as sources of energy.  Burning biomass does not increase net atmospheric carbon dioxide levels (i.e. carbon neutral) because the carbon in the food chain cycles in and out of the atmosphere constantly. Fossil fuels, although organic and derived from living matter, are NOT considered biomass because they are not renewable nor are they carbon neutral.  The carbon in fossil fuels is (for all practical purposes) finite and when burned increases the net carbon dioxide in the biosphere (and potentially contributes to anthropogenic climate change).


    In this unit students will learn about and evaluate the practicality of using biomass as an efficient source of energy.  Highlights in this unit include: the advantages and disadvantages of using ethanol as a gasoline additive and a chemistry lab in which students will turn vegetable oil into biodiesel fuel.

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