Powering the World with Energy from Biomass

With the global population souring and energy demand rising above energy supply, the need to find lasting solutions to the energy debacle has never been more profound as …


biomassWith the global population souring and energy demand rising above energy supply, the need to find lasting solutions to the energy debacle has never been more profound as it is now.

Many scientists have called for the endorsement and adoption of renewable energy technologies as the way out of the energy problem. Though this is arguably in many ramifications, what is clear however is that the hope of mankind rests with technological innovations for solutions to the energy crisis and the looming prospects of climate change and global warming.

As the world awaits these solutions, many scientists are neck deep in books and research to find these solutions that mankind most desperately needs. This essay will look at one of such possible solutions which in my own scientific opinion can help arrest this global malady.

Like I opined in my last essay about sustainable energy, many scientists believe biomass energy will play a prominent role in the future of the energy world. I couldn’t agree more. Some are brazen enough to quip that just one eighth of the total biomass produced annually would provide all of humanity’s current demand for energy.

So what is biomass and why all fuss?
The online encyclopedia, Wikipedia, defines biomass as a general term used to describe living material – plants, animals, fungi, bacteria. This represents an enormous store of energy and given that it can be re-grown biomass is essentially a renewable resource. Energy from biomass is often termed a carbon neutral since the overall carbon input is assumed to equal to the carbon output.

However, biomass like other renewable energy technologies has over the years been shrouded in one controversy or the other. The “oil for apes scandal”, the 2008 Food Crisis, Grains riots in Mexico have all been attributed to the renewed interest in biomass energy and bio-fuels in particular.

So far there seems to be very little respite on the part of the environmentalists and the energy pundits. What we call draw from this debate is clearly that mankind needs energy, but at what costs will this be. Truth is there need not be any human, environmental or social costs. The solution though not simple may appear to may come from the most unlikely source – human faeces – this is the crux of this essay.

The prospect of harnessing energy from human faeces might not seem like a pleasant idea or perhaps it may even stink. Nonetheless it may be a worthwhile option considering that solid waste management is in itself a problem. Hence mankind may just be about to kill two birds with one stone by this proposition.

The fact behind the matter is that an average person produces about 1,300 pounds liquid and solid of excrement per year. A rough estimate will thus mean that the entire human race produces approximately 7.8 tera pounds (x1012) of excrement.

In contrast the world energy demand is put at 15 tera watts (x1012) and energy consumption is projected to grow by 44 percent over the 2006 to 2030 period according to the International Energy Outlook 2009. Total world energy use is expected to rise from 472 quadrillion British thermal units (Btu) in 2006 to 552 quadrillion Btu in 2015 and then to 678 quadrillion Btu in 2030.

The question now remains how can human faeces be employed to meet the world’s energy demands? First we have to look at the how other forms of biomass are used in existing technologies.

There are currently five different ways of extracting biomass energy: solid fuel combustion, gasification, pyrolysis, digestion and fermentation. While gasification, digestion and fermentation often result in the production of synthesis gas – a mixture of carbon monoxide and hydrogen gas – solid fuel combustion appears to be the most viable technology for tapping energy from human faeces.

This article continues next week with how to tap energy from what is perceived as waste.

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