Biomass is commonly used for both power and heating. Energy from biomass can be generated from organic matter of vegetable or animal origin. This can include forestry products such as sawdust and bark, as well as agricultural residues like straw and manure.
The big advantage that biomass offers over other renewable-energy sources such as wind and solar is that it can be easily stored and used when needed. It can provide a constant, non-fluctuating supply of electricity and heating.
In addition to electricity generation, biomass sources have significant potential to displace electricity and fossil fuels used for residential and commercial space heating in Canada.
Finland and Sweden are two of the world leaders in biomass use. In 2010, biomass supplied 21 per cent of Finland's total primary energy supply and 31 per cent of its heating. In Sweden, biomass accounted for 19 per cent of total primary energy supply and 68 per cent of its heating.
In Germany, Austria and Sweden, home heating with "pellet boiler systems" is popular. These pellet systems operate like conventional central heating systems. The boilers are fed wood pellets made mainly of compressed sawdust and shavings from logs processed for lumber and other wood products.
In Germany, 124,000 people are employed in the biomass and biogas sector. Biomass can create many jobs in Canada, especially in rural areas. It could provide new income for farmers who can grow crops such as switchgrass for bio-fuel and use manure in anaerobic digesters to generate heat and power.