Humans have been using biomass energy since we began burning wood to keep warm and cook food. Wood is still the largest source of bioenergy; others include food crops, grassy and woody plants, residues from agriculture and forestry, oil-rich algae, and even methane gas from industrial wastes, sewage treatment plants and landfills.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration estimates that biomass fuels provide about 4 percent of the energy currently used in the United States, but researchers and entrepreneurs are busily trying to develop new ways to burn more biomass to create energy for several reasons. Using biomass cuts back on waste and may help reduce greenhouse gas emissions as compared to fossil fuels. It reduces our dependence on foreign oil and supports rural economies. And, it has the potential to create new jobs and generate profits for the companies involved.

A late December announcement by forestry experts at the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) found that existing and announced wood bioenergy projects increased during 2010 by nearly 35 percent, and wood biomass demand was up 76 percent. The analysis used data from Forisk Consulting and covered 112 projects to 151 projects across 11 Southern states: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia. (Only data from the Southern United States was publicly available for the past year). The total expected demand for wood biomass increased by 76 percent across the region.

“The industry has known that EPA was planning to include biogenic emissions in permitting requirements in some way since last spring, yet this fact clearly has not dampened investors’ enthusiasm for bioenergy in 2010,” said Will McDow, manager of EDF’s Southeast Center for Conservation Incentives.