Biomass is derived from recently living organisms. It includes biodegradable residues from agriculture – from both plant and animal sources – from the forestry sector and related industries as well as biodegradable industrial and household waste.
Where does biomass come from ?
The main sources of biomass are:
Marine and other aquatic environments,
Industries and human activities that use living and recently dead biological material.
What can biomass be used for?
Biomass has traditionally been used as a source of fuel and for industrial production. With the current rise in petrol prices, the use of biomass as a raw material in chemistry and as a fuel, common in the 19th and at the beginning of the 20th century, is regaining popularity.
Traditional or innovative biomaterial:
Wood and its derivatives, hemp and other plants that can be used to made textiles, are increasingly being utilised as insulating materials and even added to composite concrete. Starch from cereals or potatoes is employed to make biodegradable plastics and many other polymers.
Raw materials in chemistry:
Surfactants, solvents, bitumen solvents, inks, paints, resins, binding agents, lubricants, antifreeze products, active ingredients and essential oils used in pharmaceutics and cosmetics.
Rapeseed, sunflower, soyabean and palm oils are the basic raw materials used to make biodiesel. The so-called ‘second generation’ biofuels are derived from the cellulose found in a wide variety of non-food crops such as straw and wood.
Biofuel to produce heat and electricity:
Wood in the form of logs, chips, bark, salvage timber, granules or briquettes. Straw and crop residues.
Other sources such as grape marc, fruit kernels, waste from paper factories (black liquor, sludge), waste from local authorities etc. are used to produce biogas, which is created by the anaerobic fermentation of waste.
At some point, all of us have made, make or will make the following observations :
The world population is expanding and getting older.
Its food and energy consumption is increasing extremely rapidly.
Fossil fuel resources such as gas and petrol are running out.
The productive agricultural area per inhabitant is declining on a global scale.
Global warming is continuing, destroying the environment and having a negative impact on human activities.
The development of biomass applications constitutes one of the most important means chosen by the European Union and France of controlling the consumption of non-renewable resources and of fighting climate change.
Progress in this area allows for:
The exploitation of France’s exceptional agricultural and forestry potential.
The creation of opportunities by offering new outlets for these essential fields, whilst encouraging sustainable activities and creating jobs in these areas.
The development of alternative solutions for numerous domains in which biomass is being used increasingly frequently: such as fuel, for thermal and electrical energy, in different types of materials, chemistry, fertilisers, soil improvers, etc.
Thus, it demands consistency and synergy between the different types of use, as well as a greater and balanced mobilisation of bioresources, whether they be incidental energy sources (waste products, by-products, co-products), or dedicated energy sources (crops and plantations), so long as they contribute to the sustainable management of agricultural land and forests, and to guaranteeing the supply to pre-existing industries (agri-food, wood-fibre, etc.).
Environmental : contributing to limiting global warming and CO2 production.
The objective is to preserve the air, water, soil and biodiversity. Biomass can constitute a “carbon sink” and form a sustainable resource, which is not released back into the atmosphere.
Economic : a reliable, valuable resource.
The rise in petrol prices offers a new perspective to industries that were not sufficiently profitable in the context of low petrol prices. The areas in which biomass can be used are particularly affected by this.
Geopolitical : a contribution to energy independence.
The dominant energy sources : petrol, gas, uranium and, to a lesser degree, coal, come from limited deposits, often located in potentially unstable geographical areas. France’s own biomass production cannot guarantee the country’s energy independence, but it can make a significant contribution.
Land management employment, local and rural development.
France is a country in which agriculture and forestry play an important role, so they need to adapt to the opening up of markets. Where biomass is a commodity that is sold by the tonne at low prices, the best economic and ecological results are obtained if the material is utilised close to where it is produced.
Constraints to be managed
The possible future competition between “food” and “energy”.
The increase in the importance of the non-food applications of plant biomass will be seen in the impact on the flow of, and the amount of land given over to, agricultural products.
The immediate competition between the multiple uses of wood.
Areas to develop or consolidate : mobilisation and logistics.
Certain types of biomass application are traditional and well structured. They have been able to adapt quite quickly to increases in demand or to the diversification of the applications (oleaginous, cereal and beetroot production industries). The situation is harder for other uses such as those in the forestry-wood sector.