Biomass energy is the use of living material, generally plants, to generate energy. In the past, biomass energy generally meant burning plants. However, scientists are working on a number of new ways to harness biomass energy.
Biomass energy has been in use for tens of thousands of years. Early humans, after learning how to control fire, used the heat produced by burning plants to generate heat. This heat was used to keep people warm and to prepare food. While people today often use gas and electricity to generate heat and cook, wood-burning stoves and furnaces are still popular.
Today, scientists are focusing on converting plants and algae into liquid and gaseous form. It is possible to convert sugar, corn and other plant material into ethanol and diesel fuel, but the process is prohibitively expensive in most of the world. Many experts believe that algae can provide better returns on investment.
Biomass is a renewable form of energy. Even though burning biomass releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, this carbon dioxide was captured when the plant was growing. Because of this, biomass is regarded as a carbon-neutral technique for generating energy. However, there are still other drawbacks. Burning wood, for example, releases particulate matter into the air, which causes health problems.