The best aspect about biomass energy is that it can be made from almost anything. Some are more intriguing than others and, at times, even surprising. Listed below in descending order of this humble author’s subjective preferences are the top five most unique sources of biomass energy. Enjoy.
5. Tequila: Ethanol produced from the agave plant—the shrub used to make tequila—is estimated to be superior to that derived from corn, switchgrass or sugarcane in terms of energy. Best of all it thrives on marginal agricultural land. The agave’s high water-use efficiency excels in dry, hot environments, while generating high sugar content meaning that its cultivation can occur without displacing farmland dedicated to food. It is most commonly found in Mexico and in the southern United States. The next time a margarita is raised to stimulate the weekend, know that its key ingredient, the agave plant, is likewise invigorating the biomass industry.
4. Bushbloks: These things are just neat. And they help save cheetahs, an endangered species. Increased cattle farming and fire suppression policies have caused dense thorn bushes to displace grass cover in the Namibian savannah, the cheetah’s habitat. To help save the animals, the Cheetah Conservation Fund supports the harvest of invasive bush, converts it into woodchips and, via a high pressure extrusion process, converts it into logs. The logs, called Bushbloks, are sold locally as fuel for generators and are exported to the United Kingdom.
3. Panda feces: This blog is written from China after all. As such, it wouldn’t be proper to compose such a list without mentioning this nation’s contribution to unique biomass sources. In this case feces, and from China’s symbolic animal: the panda. It turns out the droppings of these animals contain a mix of bacteria capable of breaking down the tough lignocellulose found switch grass, corn stalks and wood chips necessary to convert plant material into energy. Adult pandas eat 10 to 20 kilograms of bamboo daily, with the bacteria in their digestive systems 95 percent effective in energy conversion—on par with termites and cattle. At any rate, panda poop certainly has the potential to make a stink in the biomass industry.
2. Bras: In a previous generation bras were burned by women as a symbol of defiance. Now they are being burned to produce energy. In Japan, two companies have so far collected nearly 380,000 bras, converting them into 32 metric tons of refuse paper and plastic fuel. The waste material is used to power industrial boilers and generators, reportedly at a combustion efficiency rate comparable to coal but at a fraction of the cost. Bras it seems are providing ample support to Japanese energy production.
1. Coffee: There is only one thing that could possibly be better than bras and that’s coffee. This benefactor to human energy is truly indispensable to the productivity of mankind—for more reasons than one. Coffee, in addition to invigorating man’s minds and limbs, is now able to power machines as a biomass energy source. Waste coffee grounds from beverage manufacturers in the United States and Japan have been used to produce thermal energy. For every kilogram of coffee beans, as much as three-fourths may be discarded as waste which is then available as a source of fuel. Could coffee be the eighth wonder of the world? If nothing else, it is certainly the number one most unique source of biomass energy.