There are many ways to produce energy and one of them is based on wood waste. Through the use of wood waste such as dead limbs, dead trees, thinned trees and other wood products that typically are discarded, energy is created from direct incineration. How does this work?

Wood products are converted to energy in a handful of ways. They include:

Thermal Conversion – Heat is used to turn the biomass or wood into another chemical form. Forms of thermal conversion include combustion, torrefaction, pyrolysis, and gasification. Thermal conversion basically takes plant matter and heats it, but doesn’t burn it and yet breaks it down into various gases, liquids and solids. These products are further processed and refined into useful fuels. Biomass gasifies capture methane released from the plants and burn it in a gas turbine to produce electricity. Another option is to take these fuels and run them through fuel cells, converting the hydrogen-rich fuels into electricity and water with few or no emissions.

Chemical Conversion – With this process, biomass is chemically converted into a liquid similar to diesel fuel.

Biochemical Conversion – Biochemical breaks down the molecules of the woody products to create biomass. Micro-organisms are often used to perform the conversion process through anaerobic digestion, fermentation, and composting. Bacteria, yeasts and enzymes break down the carbohydrates. A similar process is used to turn corn into grain alcohol or ethanol, which is mixed with gasoline to make gasohol.

Biomass has become a popular energy alternative due to its availability and soft impact on the environment. While biomass is only used to create 1.4 percent of the U.S. electricity supply, its potential is greater. The use of biomass reduces air and water pollution, increases soil quality and is said to reduce erosion and improve wildlife habitat. Biomass reduces air pollution by being a part of the carbon cycle, reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 90 percent, compared to fossil fuels. Fewer fertilizers and pesticides are used to grow energy crops, which reduces water pollution. Biomass crops are also renewable.

Other products used for biomass besides tree clippings and dead trees include garbage, various forms of grasses, and animal matter. Within the wood industry, wood is turned into what is called pulping liquor. Pulping mills have used black liquor as an energy source since the 30s. Black liquor is obtained from cooking pulpwood into paper pulp, removing lignin, hemicelluloses and other extractives from the wood, which frees the cellulose fibers. The result is an aqueous solution that contains half of the energy content of the wood, which is then fed into a digester. Due to this energy, pulp mills are now burning as much of the black liquor they produce as possible, generating steam – thus helping the mills reduce problems with water emissions, reducing their use of chemicals by recovery and reuse, and helping them become nearly energy self-sufficient.

The development and use of biomass is a growing industry, mostly as effective as the proximity of the products – such as wood, is to the plant where it is processed. As it continues to grow, it could help meet America’s large energy consumption needs.

About the Author: Andrew Johnson is the owner of Central Texas Tree Care, a leading provider of Austin tree services in Central Texas. Certified ISA Austin arborist services including: tree trimming, tree removal, tree care and stump removal. For more information on Austin tree service please visit

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