Biomass is biological material derived from living, or recently living organisms, such as wood, waste, and alcohol fuels. Biomass is commonly plant matter grown to generate electricity or produce heat. For example, forest residues (such as dead trees, branches and tree stumps), yard clippings and wood chips may be used as biofuel. However, biomass also includes plant or animal matter used for production of fibers or chemicals. Biomass may also include biodegradable wastes that can be burnt as fuel. It excludes organic material such as fossil fuel which has been transformed by geological processes into substances such as coal or petroleum.
Industrial biomass can be grown from numerous types of plant, including miscanthus, switchgrass, hemp, corn, poplar, willow, sorghum, sugarcane, and a variety of tree species, ranging from eucalyptus to oil palm (palm oil). The particular plant used is usually not important to the end products, but it does affect the processing of the raw material.
Biomass energy is derived from three distinct energy sources: wood, waste, and alcohol fuels. Wood energy is derived both from direct use of harvested wood as a fuel and from wood waste streams. The largest source of energy from wood is pulping liquor or "black liquor," a waste product from processes of the pulp, paper and paperboard industry. Waste energy is the second-largest source of biomass energy. The main contributors of waste energy are municipal solid waste (MSW), manufacturing waste, and landfill gas. Biomass alcohol fuel, or ethanol, is derived almost exclusively from corn. Its principal use is as an oxygenate in gasoline.
Biomass can be converted to other usable forms of energy like methane gas or transportation fuels like ethanol and biodiesel. Methane gas is the main ingredient of natural gas. Smelly stuff, like rotting garbage, and agricultural and human waste, release methane gas - also called "landfill gas" or "biogas." Crops like corn and sugar cane can be fermented to produce the transportation fuel, ethanol. Biodiesel, another transportation fuel, can be produced from left-over food products like vegetable oils and animal fats.