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Pro   Con

Biomass is readily available and in large supply.1

Biomass can be produced almost anywhere and is not very susceptible to political pressures. Biomass energy sources can be grown on marginal lands or bodies of water unsuitable for food production.2

Biomass can produce solid, liquid, or gaseous fuels.3 The energy content of biomass is high.4

Biomass contains almost no sulfur, little ash, and won't produce more carbon dioxide than it removes through photosynthesis.5

Biomass can be burned or gasified as easily as coal, and liquified more easily than coal.6

Biomass technology is simple and has been in use for a long time.7

Methane derived from biomass can be substituted for natural gas.8

It is fairly easy to add biomass to existing industrial activities.9

Wood is probably one of the most undermanaged and underutilized resources in the U.S. With proper planning and maintenance, it could provide readily usable fuel forever.10

Reforestation will aid in soil erosion control and in retardation of dam siltations, as well as improve air quality.11

Wood ash from combustion in power plants is a valuable fertilizer.12

Pelletized wood made from wood waste can be used in unmodified coal-fired furnaces and can be transported economically. It gives off few pollutants when burned.13

With a growing knowledge of the problems caused by carbon dioxide released from fossil fuels, the increased use of wood for energy might be part of the solution. Trees absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen.14


One-third to two-thirds of energy is lost in most biomass conversion processes.15

There is a high initial cost for biomass conversion and collection facilities.16

The use of crop residues and animal wastes robs soil of necessary cellulose bulk and nutrients.17

The burning of vegetation is the world's largest source of carbon monoxide.18

Substantial amounts of land will be required if biomass fuels are to be used on a large scale.18

Wood burning causes air pollution.20

Deforesting will increase the global excess carbon dioxide problem because forests remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.21

AMA Commentary

Continuously renewable plants, trees, grass, algae, and industrial and municipal waste collectively are referred to as biomass.22. Biomass can be burned directly to produce heat, or can be converted to liquid or gaseous fuels by a variety of processes.23

Wood- and waste-fired power (including agricultural wastes) present few technical or economic obstacles;24 however, moving biomass from its point of generation to its point of use is expensive: the costs of labor, equipment, and fuel can quickly become prohibitive under certain circumstances.25 In addition, separating usable waste from dispersed waste products is a problem for the waste-to-energy industry.26

Burning municipal wastes (garbage generated daily by households, businesses, and industries) -- which reduces the problem of waste disposal in densely populated urban areas -- causes dangerous air pollution. While pollution control devices cut down on harmful emissions, they add to the cost of waste-to-energy power plants.27

There is a possibility that biomass fuel crops will eventually compete for land with food crops. However, trees for energy can be grown on otherwise useless terrain (steep, rocky, fragile land) without environmental damage.28

In 1985, biomass accounted for more than five percent of the United States' total energy supply. Wood and wood wastes account for the bulk of bioenergy used in the United States today -- primarily for home heating and the forest products industry, which derives 60 percent of its energy from wood.29

Small (50-55 megawatt) power plants using wood or municipal wastes as primary fuels are in operation, and many electric utilities are studying various processes for utilizing municipal waste as a power plant fuel.30

1 Gabel, op. cit., p. 151.
2 Ibid.
3 Ibid.
4 Ibid.
5 Ibid.
6 Ibid.
7 Ibid.
8 Ibid.
9 Gander and Belaire, op. cit., pp. 144-145.
10 Sant, et al, op. cit., p. 102.
11 Ibid.
12 Ibid.
13 Deudney and Flavin, op. cit., pp. 116-117.
14 Ibid., p. 133.
15 Gabel, op. cit., p. 154.
16 Ibid.
17 Ibid.
18 Ibid.
19 Ibid.
20 Ibid.
21 Ibid.
22 Edison Electric Institute, "Alternative Energy Sources and Technologies," pamphlet, p. 27.
23 National Society of Professional Engineers, Proceedings from the Second Annual Energy Awareness Luncheon and Energy Seminar, November 1980, p. 71.
24 Christopher Flavin, Electricity's Future: The Shift to Efficiency and Small-Scale Power, (Washington, D.C.: Worldwatch Institute, November 1984), No. 61, p. 38.
25 Peirce, op. cit., pp. 256-257.
26 Flavin, Electricity's Future, The Shift to Efficiency and Small-Scale Power, op. cit.
27 Christopher Flavin, "Renewable Energy at the Crossroads," Center for Renewable Resources, January 1985, p. 6.
28 Peirce, op. cit., pp. 256-257.
29 Flavin, "Renewable Energy at the Crossroads," op. cit., p. 4.
30 Edison Electric Institute, "Alternative Energy Sources and Technologies," op. cit., pp. 28-30.