Biomass Energy Systems

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What is a Biomass Energy System?

Biomass energy systems utilize biomass, a renewable resource, to power facility heating, electric power generation, or combined heat and power (CHP) systems (see Combined Heat and Power (CHP)).[1] Biomass sources include organic material such as plant matter, wood, waste wood, residue from agriculture or forestry and organic matter from municipal or industrial waste. Fumes from landfills such as methane, a natural gas, provide biomass for electricity generation.[2]

Figure 1 – Monmouth County’s 1 MW biopower project (Source: NJ Clean Energy).

Figure 1 – Monmouth County’s 1 MW biopower project (Source: NJ Clean Energy).


According to the Rutgers EcoComplex’s Assessment of Biomass Energy Potential in New Jersey:[3]

  • Solid waste makes up 72% of biomass. Agriculture and forestry management also produce potential sources of biomass.
  • Technologies for converting solid waste to biomass include combustion, gasification and anaerobic digestion.
  • The counties of central and northeastern New Jersey contain the largest biomass concentrations.

How to Incorporate Biomass Energy Systems  

Direct-fired combustion is the most common method of producing heat and electricity from biomass.[4] Commercial scale facilities typically use woody biomass in the form of whole logs or firewood, wood chips, and wood pellets. Two types of chip-fired direct combustion systems include fixed-bed and atmospheric fluidized-bed systems.[5]

A direct combustion system burns biomass to generate hot gas, which provides heat directly or feeds biomass into a boiler to generate hot water or steam. In a boiler system, the steam provides heat for process or space heating. It can also transfer heat to a facility through typical space heating methods. In a combined heat and power system (CHP), the boiler produces steam to run a turbine and power a generator to produce electricity. Excess steam and hot water support heating applications. Combined heat and power (CHP) systems significantly increase overall energy efficiency to approximately 80%, from the standard biomass electricity-only systems with efficiencies of approximately 20%.[6] Cost-effect biomass energy systems utilize both electricity production and thermal energy.

See NJ’s Clean Energy Program: Biopower to find out more about the types of biomass energy systems currently supported in New Jersey. Installing a biomass energy system requires professional expertise. Evaluate the facility’s waste stream to identify opportunities to convert waste into energy.

See the NJ Office of Clean Energy’s Combined Heat and Power Program also offers incentives for CHP systems, with bonus incentives for CHP systems fueled by renewable fuel sources.


Biomass Energy Resource Center (BERC)

With funding from the US DOE, the Biomass Energy Resource Center (BERC) developed a series of case studies illustrating the design and operational experiences of various community-scale facilities, including businesses, campuses, community buildings, schools, housing and government facilities, that employ biomass systems in the US, Canada, Europe, and Scandinavia.

The Rex Lumber Company, Englishtown, NJ.

The Rex Lumber Company, with a rebate for nearly 50% from the NJ Clean Energy Program, replaced a natural gas system with a wood-waste boiler biomass system to heat its kilns.


Using biomass for energy turns waste into resources, provides a renewable source of electricity and reduces the use of and dependency on fossil fuels, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and enhancing fuel supply security. Biomass powered CHP technologies have the added benefit of generating both low-carbon electricity and low-carbon heat, further increasing energy efficiency and reducing carbon emissions by utilizing waste heat and using fuel more efficiently.[7] Biomass reduces waste management costs like tipping fees while promoting local business and farming. Replacing up to 20% of fossil fuel such as coal with bio-fuel also reduces nitrous oxides, carbon dioxide, and sulfur dioxide emissions. Capturing methane, a gas emitted by the decomposition of waste 28-36 times stronger than carbon dioxide, reduces emissions of a significant greenhouse gas.[8]


The economics of biomass power generation depends on the availability of a predictable, local, sustainably-sourced, low-cost and long-term feedstock supply.[9] Differences in feedstock chemical composition impact the cost of the feedstock. For example, waste produced due to industrial processes can have a zero or even negative cost by avoiding waste disposal charges. Likewise, prices for dedicated energy crops can spike due to low productivity and high transportation costs. Lower cost options may include agricultural, and forestry residues collected and transported over short distances or available locally as a by-product.

The wide range of bioenergy-fired power generation technologies translates into a broad range of installed costs. For example, installation costs for biomass heating plants average between $500 to $1500 per kW-thermal of installed heating rate capacity.[10] Installation for small-scale biomass electric plants typically cost between $3,000 to $4,000 per kW.[11]

Fixed operations and maintenance (O&M) costs, such as labor, scheduled maintenance, routine component or equipment replacement, and insurance for bioenergy power plants typically range from 2-6% of total installed costs per year, while variable O&M costs average 0.005/KWh.[12]


Biomass offers several resiliency benefits including the ability to stockpile fuel for emergencies.[13] Plans to recover, segregate, and process biomass fuel locally makes downed biomass from fallen trees and vegetation caused by storms and natural disasters a cost-saving resource rather than a post-disaster clean-up expense.[14] Making use of downed biomass also frees up time and money for other recovery efforts, while at the same time providing short to long-term backup power for critical infrastructure and emergency services.

Biomass energy systems with off-grid or islanding capabilities and thermal energy storage provide enhanced energy independence, security, and reliability in the event of natural disasters and security threats while also helping to manage peak demand and lower utility costs throughout the year via demand response programs (see Thermal Energy Storage, Battery Storage and Back-up Power Generation, Demand Response and Peak Load Management).[15] Biomass-fired CHP systems promote the renewable energy industry in New Jersey by utilizing renewable sources of fuel, providing backup power and balancing the supply and demand of electricity from variable renewables such as wind and solar.[16] A form of distributed energy generation, biomass-fired CHP systems support the development and integration of microgrids and the broader smart grid, which aims to diversify and strengthen the electric grid through better energy management and the integration of cleaner energy sources and energy storage.

[1] Whole Building Design Guide (WBDG): Biomass to Heat. (accessed April 30, 2018).

[2] NJ Clean Energy Program. “Biopower.” (accessed April 12, 2018).

[3] Rutgers EcoComplex: Assessment of Biomass Energy Potential in New Jersey. Version 2.0 Updated July 2015. (accessed April 30, 2018).

[4] WBDG: Biomass for Electricity Production (accessed April 30, 2018).

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] International Energy Agency (IEA). 2011. Co-generation and Renewables – Solutions for a low-carbon energy future. (accessed Oct 9, 2018).

[8] US EPA. (accessed April 30, 2018).

[9] International Renewable Energy Agency (IREA). Renewable Power Generation Costs in 2017 (accessed April 27, 2018).

[10] WBDG. Biomass from Heating. (accessed April 27, 2018).

[11] WBDG. Biomass from Electricity. (accessed April 27, 2018).

[12] IREA. Renewable Power Generation Costs in 2017 (accessed April 27, 2018).

[13] WBDG. Biomass from Heating. (accessed April 27, 2018).

[14] Ibid.

[15] Woody Biomass Utilization Working Group (WBUG). Benefits of Biomass. (accessed April 27, 2018).

[16] International Energy Agency (IEA). 2011. Co-generation and Renewables – Solutions for a low-carbon energy future. (accessed Oct 9, 2018).