It's possible to generate energy by growing plant material and burning it. If managed well, most of the carbon released by burning the material will be captured by the growing plants, and so have a low impact on overall levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide.

A better solution is using the growing plants to help solve other environmental problems.

One set of systems currently running in Sweden grows willow trees and irrigates them with sewage effluent. This helps purify the sewage outflow at the same time as providing fuel.

Other systems plant willow buffers between arable land and water ways. The willow trees use nitrogen that is being leached off the land, making good use of it instead of letting it simply pollute the rivers and seas.

A third system is the option of growing biomass on areas of wasteland in India. Along with providing fuel, this also stops the land becoming degraded by erosion.

Cellulose, hemicellulose and lignin molecules contained in biomass will greatly improve the way that these resources can be exploited in commercial scale operations.

At the moment oil is the source of chemicals that go into substances from paints to pharmaceuticals. Biomass could provide these, either by deliberately creating them, or by harvesting by-products of fermentation processes such as biofuel production. But to be ready for a biomass driven future we need start planning appropriate biorefineries today.

Biofuels, Bioproducts and Biorefining