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Box 4: Biomass

Our planet's abundant plant life is nature's storehouse of solar energy chemical resources and from a climate standpoint an important carbon store. Whether cultivated by man, or growing wild, plant matter represents a massive quantity of a renewable resource that we call biomass.

Carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and water from the earth are combined in the photosynthetic process to produce carbohydrates (sugars) that form the building blocks of biomass. The solar energy that drives photosynthesis is stored in the chemical bonds of the structural components of biomass. If we burn biomass efficiently (extract the energy stored in the chemical bonds) oxygen from the atmosphere combines with the carbon in plants to produce carbon dioxide and water. The process is cyclic because the carbon dioxide is then available to produce new biomass. Biomass is a renewable resource!

Biomass represents a very large energy resource. At present the world population uses only about 7% of the annual production of biomass. Therefore, we are only partially exploiting nature's abundant renewable resource.