Biomass energy involves growing plants not for eating, but to be burned to produce heat.
In MegaWatt, biomass is a high cost, fairly low environmental impact card. Combine this with the carbon capture and storage upgrade to reduce your grid's environmental impact even further.
Plants, such as rapeseed or willow, are specifically grown so they can be burned in a furnace. This heat is used to generate steam that powers a turbine much like in a coal power plant.
Biomass is a renewable energy source, in that more can be planted after they’re harvested. It is also considered a low carbon energy source because the carbon dioxide released through burning plant material is absorbed over the long term by the replanted plants.
A lot of land is needed to grow all the fuel for biomass power plants. This is land that could be used in other ways, such as growing food. Countries like the UK do not grow enough plants to fuel all the existing biomass power plants, so they import it from other countries. In 2019 around two thirds of biomass fuel used in the UK was imported.
Now for some stats from the UK grid in 2019.
Biomass provided around 11.5% of the total electricity generation, which is 1.1% more than the year before.
The burning of biomass is not too different to the burning of coal, and there is potential to convert coal power plants to burn biomass fuel instead. Since 2012, four of the six generating units at Drax power plant (near Selby) have been converted to burn biomass.
Biomass isn't all about burning plants as fuel, it's also a good way of dealing with animal waste. Check out the video below to see how we get power from plants and poo.
Here are some examples if you want to learn more.
The world's largest biomass power plant is the converted Ironbridge coal power plant located in the Severn Gorge, England.
While the UK has the largest biomass power plant in the world, it does not produce the fuel for it. The majority of biomass fuel is in the form of wood pellets, which are imported from Canada and the United States. In 2018 the UK imported 7.8 million tonnes of wood pellets. On the other side of the coin, the United States is the world's largest exporter of wood pellets, exporting 6.9 million tonnes in 2019.
Carbon capture and storage is being explored with biomass plants. In February 2019, Drax started a pilot project to capture one tonne a day of CO2 from its wood combustion.
All of the numbers we used for the UK statistics can be found in the Digest of United Kingdom Energy Statistics 2020 which is from the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (the people in government who look after our energy policy).