What Is Bioenergy?

A Growing Form of Renewable Energy Sources

Scenic View Of Corn Field Against Clear Sky
••• Enric Arcos Pellicer / EyeEm/Getty Images

Bioenergy is a renewable energy source created from natural, biological sources. Many natural sources, such as plants, animals, and their byproducts, can be valuable resources. Modern technology makes even landfills or waste zones potential bioenergy resources. It can be used to be a sustainable power source, providing heat, gas, and fuel. 

The energy contained in the sources, like plants, is obtained from the sun, absorbed through a process known as photosynthesis.

As this energy can be replenished, its considered an inexhaustible source. 

Using bioenergy has the potential to decrease our carbon footprint and improve the environment. While bioenergy uses the same amount of carbon dioxide as traditional fossil fuels, as long as the plants used are replaced, the impact is minimized. Fast-growing trees and grass help this process and are known as bioenergy feedstocks. 

Where Does Bioenergy Come From?

Most bioenergy comes from forests, agricultural farms, and waste. The feedstocks are grown by farms specifically for their use as an energy source. Common crops include starch or sugar-based plants, like sugarcane or corn. 

How Is Bioenergy Created?

To turn the raw sources into energy, there are three processes: chemical, thermal and biochemical. Chemical processing uses chemical agents to break down the natural source and convert it into liquid fuel. Corn ethanol, a fuel created from corn, is an example of chemical processing results.

Thermal conversion uses heat to change the source into energy through combustion or gasification. Biochemical conversion uses bacteria or other organisms to convert the source, such as through composting or fermentation.

Who Uses Bioenergy?

Bioenergy exists at several different levels. Individuals can create bioenergy, such as by creating a compost heap out of kitchen scraps and keeping worms to produce rich fertilizer.

At the other extreme are large energy corporations looking for more sustainable energy sources than oil or coal.  These organizations use huge farms and facilities to provides hundreds or thousands of customers with energy. 

Why is Bioenergy Important?

Bioenergy is more prominent and well-known than it was even a few years ago. Efforts have been made to make the United States more independent from foreign oil. Having the ability to produce energy through plants or other resources would lessen our reliance on foreign nations. 

Bioenergy is also viewed as essential for the environment. Continued use of fossil fuels will cause significant environmental issues and can harm the population's health. 

As technology progresses, bioenergy has the potential to dramatically reduce greenhouse emissions, the release of harmful gases associated with global warming and climate change. The use of forests and farms in bioenergy can help combat the harmful release of carbon dioxide and help achieve a balance. 

At this time, bioenergy is not ready to replace fossil fuels. The process is too costly and uses too many resources to be practical for most areas. The large plots of land and significant amounts of water needed to be successful can be difficult for many states or countries.As science continues to study this area, though, bioenergy will increasingly become a standard energy form and will help improve the environment.