Biomass can refer to any organic material, including crop residues, animal waste and wood, including construction and furniture factory debris. Biomass from trees is referred to as woody biomass.
Although touted as “renewable,” because organic materials can grow back or be replenished, biomass electricity generation has far more in common with fossil fuels than with non-combustion-based renewable technologies such as wind or solar. It emits harmful pollutants including particulate matter, nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, heavy metals, and toxins such as benzene, formaldehyde and dioxins.
Several public health and medical organizations have officially stated their opposition to biomass combustion for electricity generation based on public health and environmental concerns. In 2016, eight of these groups, including the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Lung Association, sent to members of the US Congress and Senate which concluded:
Burning biomass creates proven harm to human health through direct air pollution impacts, as well as the potential for increasing climate change. … We urge you to protect human health by supporting the development of truly clean, carbon-free sources of energy such as solar energy and wind power.
As a World Health Organization reminds us, 1 in 8 people worldwide die as a result of exposure to air pollution. They tell us we need clean energy from real sustainable fuels and “less wood, diesel, coal.”