The Energy Policy Act of 2005 defines biomass as non-hazardous cellulosic material from forest-related resources, wood waste materials excluding solid municipal waste, agricultural waste and plants grown for the purpose of producing electricity. These materials are used to generate power either by burning them or by burning methane released during their decomposition.

The use of biomass to generate energy is called biopower. Biopower is classified as renewable energy because the biomass used to generate it can be replenished. Biopower is considered to be carbon neutral because the carbon absorbed by the plant source during its life approximately equals the carbon released when the source is converted to biopower. In addition to being carbon neutral, biopower is generated with lower emissions than power generated by burning fossil fuels.

Types of biomass

The Energy Information Administration (EIA) classifies biopower based on four sources of biomass: landfill gas, municipal solid waste, power from wood and wood derived fuels and other biomass. The other biomass classification includes agricultural byproducts and crops grown to produce biopower. According to the EIA, wood and wood-derived fuels account for the largest share of biopower generated by electric utilities.

The primary way utilities generate biopower is by co-firing biomass with a fossil fuel such as coal to create steam and power a turbine. Biomass can also be burned as a sole fuel source. Burning biomass presents some unique disadvantages. The source may not always be available when needed or at a price per BTU that is comparable to a fossil fuel source. In addition, the biomass may contain characteristics that require boiler modifications and/or additional air permits.

Biomass at AEP

We've conducted biomass co-firing tests and analyses at several of our power plants, and we continue to investigate biomass fuels.

Today we use biodiesel for unit startup and flame stabilization at several power plants.