Biomass is a broad term used to describe organic materials of a biological origin that can be used as a source of energy—for heat and/or electric power or liquid fuels. These may include agricultural and forestry residues, the organic components of municipal solid wastes and water treatment processes, and terrestrial and aquatic crops, such as fast growing trees, switch grass, or algae, grown solely for energy purposes. In this country, biomass energy is primarily derived from wood (harvested directly or from waste wood streams); garbage (resulting in landfill or biogas); and agricultural crops (like warm season grasses) or residues (such as corn stover or animal manures).
Today, biomass resources are used to generate electricity and power by burning it in place of fossil fuels in steam turbines. It can also be converted to methane through anaerobic digestion, or to liquid fuels, also called biofuels, such as ethanol or biodiesel for transportation.
Virginia’s Biomass Resources
Virginia has substantial biomass resources. While the total amount available has not been inventoried, some individual biomass resource assessments have been completed. In 2010, Virginia Tech and the Virginia Cooperative Extension Service conducted a Preliminary Residual Biomass Inventory for the Commonwealth of Virginia: Geographic Information System Based Multi-Feedstock Bioresidue Assessment.
The primary objective of this resource assessment is to look comprehensively at the state’s biomass resource base to determine the quantity and availability of feedstocks for bioenergy production. This inventory represents a first step toward a sustainable energy policy within the state, since information on type and geographic distribution of biomass is critical for feasibility analysis and project prioritization. The project aimed to help create partnerships between farmers, entrepreneurs, researchers, government, and non-profit organizations across the state in order to successfully converting these byproducts into value-added products.
Bio-residuals were classified into one of five categories, including agricultural crops, agricultural manures, forestry resources, food wastes, and municipal waste resources.