Biomass Energy Disadvantages

An explanation of the various biomass energy disadvantages, and the challenges that we face in efficiently utilizing this promising source of renewable energy.
Fast Fact
According to the United States Energy Information Administration (EIA), the cost of biomass energy production will increase twice as much as that of natural gas energy, till 2017.

Biomass energy is renewable, and is obtained from the organic matter called biomass (for example, wood, waste, and alcohol fuels). This term also may include biodegradable waste such as green waste, food waste, and biodegradable municipal solid waste. It does show potential as a renewable energy source, but still, there are a few disadvantages of this type of energy.

Disadvantages of Biomass Energy
  • Combustion of wood and other biomass products leads to carbon dioxide emissions, resulting in contribution to global warming. In the case of forest wood, the ratio of 'carbon released to carbon captured' greatly increases. This means that a great amount of carbon is added to the atmosphere; a lot more than what could have been recaptured by the forests.
  • Although biomass fuels are renewable energy sources, there is still no significant reduction in their emission levels, and they produce the same amounts of harmful pollutants as fossil fuels. There actually is a chance of increased pollution, due to incomplete combustion of biomass products, which produce black carbon- a major contributor to global warming. The human and animal waste used for energy production emits huge amount of methane gas, which is harmful to the ozone layer.
  • Though a minor disadvantage, the smell of decaying biomass usually near biogas plants is very unpleasant and too strong to handle. Also, the degradation of biomass can lead to spread of many pathogens, if proper precautions are not taken.
  • The food vs. fuel debate is one of the biggest disadvantages of using biomass energy. Large areas of crop and farm land are used for growing biomass plants. This cultivation of fuel crops might just put a little too much strain on our other limited resources, such as water and land used for food crops. It might be possible to use the particular land area for some different purpose like building infrastructure or forest conservation, but due to more focus and concentration on environment-friendly ways in today's world, this land will be sacrificed for biomass energy production. People all over the world question this use of resources for producing energy to support our lavish lifestyles, while the ones in other underdeveloped countries starve without adequate food to eat.
  • Another disadvantage is that at times, it is not economical to produce, grow, and transport biomass. This is especially true when the biomass source is not too close to the area of processing, or the methods used to process it are wasteful. The initial production, research, and development regarding this energy involves consumption of large amounts of fossil fuels, leading to increase in global warming.
  • The cost of installing and maintaining the infrastructure for processing biomass is very expensive. It involves making infrastructure for collecting, processing, and then purifying the biofuels. This is a long process, and is often time-consuming; although research is still being done, and success is being seen in reducing the time and expenditure involved.
  • Biofuels usually have lower fuel economy than normal fossil fuels. They are not the best options for efficient generation of more-than-enough quantity of energy. For example, when ethanol is mixed with gasoline, it may be harmful to vehicle engines, and is proven to be inefficient as compared to gasoline.
  • Biomass production sometimes depends on seasonal crops such as corn for ethanol production. This makes it impossible to produce such fuels for the entire year. This problem is being overcome by the use of waste materials and cultivation of switchgrass, which can greatly reduce a number of drawbacks caused by using corn.
  • The net energy gain from using biomass energy is very low, and steps have to be taken to improve the overall gain, from its efficient production and usage.
  • In most biomass energy facilities, especially the ones using wood pellets, the plantation of trees and plants should be done in a continuous manner, as the facilities use a large amount of wood for everyday energy production. But, the number of trees planted is rarely greater than the number of trees felled. Hence, conservation of plants is not done on expected levels in case of biomass energy.
  • The technological development in this domain is not growing as fast as expected. Hence, harnessing, storing, and processing of biomass is still somewhat difficult. More research is needed regarding this matter
The use of biomass is still greatly debated, with an equal number of supporters and detractors on the two sides, since there are both biomass advantages and disadvantages associated with this energy. Despite the above mentioned cons, an important advantage of biomass energy is that it can be used efficiently, only after we have completely understood and developed innovative solutions to deal with the current challenges and problems faced. An economical, and a planet-friendly mindset and approach should be used to solve the various hurdles, which are faced by the biomass and biofuel industries. Irresponsible and indiscriminate use of biomass should be discouraged. It is only then that the prime species of our planet (i.e. humans) can save further damage and destruction of our environment.