Is Biomass Really a Clean Energy Resource?

As we strive to find alternative energy resources, many potential solutions are on the table. Biomass energy is one such solution or is it?

Biomass energy is unique in that it has existed in primitive forms since the early days of mankind. Burning wood in a cave is a form of biomass energy, which is simply the conversion of an organic material in a manner that produces heat. For example, a fire converts the organic wood into heat. Therein, however, lays the problem.

Global warming is a much debated issue with everyone having a strong opinion and no one seemingly willing to listen to the other side. Whatever your view on this subject, what is clear is we are producing an absolute ton of carbon-based gases in our modern civilization. This is a key issue since the amount of carbon in the atmosphere is a key factor in climate regulation on our planet.

To understand the problems of biomass as an energy form, one has to understand the biomass cycle that occurs on the planet. Simplified, the biomass cycle regulates the amount of carbon in our atmosphere. The biomass, primarily in the form of plants, uses carbon to grow and the biosphere effectively acts as a sponge for carbon. This sponge effect, however, has limits. As with a sponge in your kitchen, the biomass can only suck up so much carbon at one time. When there is too much carbon in the atmosphere or we shrink our “sponge” with deforestation and such, we run the risk of overwhelming the atmosphere with carbon gases. If our atmosphere has excessive carbon, heat is trapped and all hell begins to break loose. From a practical standpoint, this means our relatively mild climate on Earth will start becoming more chaotic. After the most recent hurricane season, that definitely is not a good thing.

Taking the biomass cycle into consideration, the negatives of all biomass energy production are that they create more carbon gases. A caveman sitting next to a fire in a cave is using biomass energy to produce heat, but the black smoke is a very nasty carbon pollutant. In modern terms, biomass energy doesn’t really resolve the amount of carbon we are putting into the atmosphere. Yet, there is an argument on the other side of the biomass coin.

Proponents of biomass argue it is a better energy source than fossil fuels. The basis of this argument is that plants [biomass] have taken in much smaller amounts of carbon gases over a shorter period of time than fossil fuels. Thus, burning them is a carbon neutral situation. The problem, of course, is that even if this concept is correct, we are not cutting down our carbon emissions. At this point in time, we need to be reducing carbon gasses, not maintaining our current output.

It is undisputable biomass has its problems. It is a better alternative than fossil fuels, but how much so?

Rick Chapo is with, a directory of solar energy companies. Visit us to read more articles on solar power and renewable energy.

The Future of Solar Energy

With the current concentration on global warming, the existence of which is denied by only a few naysayers, developments in solar power are moving at a pace to fill the need for efficient green solutions to our seemingly insatiable desire for energy.

The failure of solar power to be more widely adopted to date seems primarily to be due to cost concerns, where the payback periods are now quoted to be 7+ years, and thus beyond the normal financial horizon for many potential participants, whose average occupancy of any particular house is expected to be 7 years. When a lower cost can be achieved, the benefits of mass production will cause a snowball effect in purchasing systems, and that time would seem to be drawing closer.

Durham University in the UK, ever photovoltaic solar research project, with more than $12M to be spent in the next four years, starting in April. The principal investigator, Professor Ken Durose, has committed to "make a major contribution to achieving competitive photovoltaic solar energy". Nine industrial partners and eight institutions will be involved in the project, which is aimed at reducing the thickness, and thus cost, of solar cells.

Much as this may seem to be a promising advance, an alternative approach is being adopted by commercial interests, in the form of a company called G24i which is also in the UK, in Wales. They have developed what are called fourth generation solar cells, which are a thin-film product, the latest buzzword in the solar marketplace.

Their invention is a dye-sensitized solar cell (DSSC), which is, simply, printing a thin layer of titanium oxide on to a thin-film of metal foil, and then performing some molecular manipulations to achieve the desired reaction to light. The product is manufactured on a roll-to-roll process, similar to that used in the textile industry. They commenced production last year, and are planning to expand this year to a production capacity of 200 Megawatts.

The process by which DSSC works has been compared to that of photosynthesis in plants, and it is more sensitive than conventional silicon cells, producing electricity from a wider range of the light spectrum and lower levels of lighting. It is very flexible and one-fiftieth of the weight of conventional glass silicon cells, and can even be produced in designer colors! The initial market is for devices that could not be made with the older technology, supplying power for portable electronics, particularly for mobile phones in the developing world.

With a growth in the traditional solar cell market of 35% per annum, and a continuing global shortage of silicon projected up to 2010, G24i would seem to be very well placed to take away business from the conventional suppliers. Their technology is available at much lower cost, and expansion would seem to be limited only by their ability to grow in a controlled manner.

On what seems to be a more esoteric front, it's reported that scientists are considering the possibility of a space engineering project that would dwarf any other that has been attempted to date. While the sheer size of the project would require governments to take the first steps at an international level, researchers from the USA, Europe and Japan are proposing building giant solar arrays in orbit and beaming the energy to Earth.

Lieutenant Colonel Paul Damphousse of the Pentagon has spoken of the need for "hundreds of sorties every week" in order to move the tons of material that would be required. A recent study by the Pentagon concluded that such a project was nearly technologically possible right now, and that robots could be used to facilitate the construction in space. More realistically, perhaps, Leopold Summerer of the European Space Agency has projected that the generation of power in space may be about 20 years away, but the concept is being actively pursued.

Finally, what may prove to be the most promising current development in solar energy has just been announced by Global Warming Solutions, Inc. of Houston. Successful tests have been conducted on hybrid solar modules, which produce both heat and electricity from one unit. The combined efficiency of the modules is reported to reach 85%, significantly better than the 40%+, then a record, achieved a year ago by Spectrolab using concentrator solar cells to produce electricity only.

The technologies used include some originally developed for industrial lasers, stated Dr. Alexander Kornaraki, the COO. "The quantum pump separates the heat and the electrical photons of the incident solar light", giving the most efficient spectra to the photovoltaic process. The modules produce up to 28 Watts of electricity and 93 Watts of heat per square foot. The projected payback period is no more than five years.

Global Warming Systems have several pilot systems, and one with 108 square feet of panels provides 100% of the energy, both electrical and heating, to a single family home. Even more promising, these panels are efficient even as far north as Alaska, which is a new achievement for the industry.

Learn more about Solar Power and how you can use it to produce electric power, to heat, or even cool your home!

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Negatives of Solar Energy

These days green is the new black! That's right everyone across the United States are discovering new ways to save the planet by creating cars that release less toxic fumes, making new things from recycled materials, and by powering our homes in new ways. One of the more popular methods to living 'green' is through the use of solar power.

Solar energy has the ability to give us cheaper if not free electricity to our homes through the use of solar panels. However, before you jump on the band wagon and go out and try to start this new power trip there are a few things you should know. There are some people who believe there are many negatives to solar power.

Many people believe that thermal solar energy has many health risks when it is used to heat water and the air in their homes. This can happen when it has not been set up properly or the manufacturer made errors when producing it.

Majority of solar water heaters were built to do three things. Give people hot water, obtain sunlight and convert it into heat energy, and to circulate the fluids that can transport heat energy to the storage system as well as store hot water till someone needs it.

If it is unable to store the water properly it can cause fungus and molds to grow making anyone who drinks or uses the water sick. To make sure that this does not happen you can make sure that the units used to store the water have been built from materials that are made to prevent this.

PV solar energy also as health risks that you need to be careful of. PV (photo-voltaic) panels require millions of silicon dioxide in order to be used. That number is lowered when they are exposed to heat. The materials that are released during the refining process will increase the rate of toxicity and can affect your health. This is one of the more serious negatives of solar energy that is responsible for eleven to twenty one deaths per each quadrillion joules of energy that are created.

But do not let this deter you completely. Study up on the different types of solar panels and the negatives as well as the positives. You might find that they are worth it in the end.

There are Solar Energy Benefits and Solar Energy Negatives that people will consider before they make a decision to install it. Learning how Solar Energy is Harnessed will help you to understand how it works.

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