How Does Biomass Energy Work? - Lesson for Kids

Instructor: Rebecca Gillaspy

Dr. Gillaspy has taught health science at University of Phoenix and Ashford University and has a degree from Palmer College of Chiropractic.

Did you know that your car can run on corn and that your lamp can run on banana peels? Corn and food scraps are both examples of biomass. In this lesson, you'll learn how biomass can be converted to the energy that powers our lives.

What is Biomass Energy?

Did you ever cook a marshmallow over a campfire? If you did, then you already know something about biomass energy, which is the use of once living material as an energy source. Wood, which was once a living tree, can be burned for heating and cooking. Wood is an example of biomass.

Biomass is a term that is easy to understand if you break it down into its parts. ''Bio'' refers to living things, and ''mass'' refers to matter, so biomass is matter that comes from living or recently living things like plants and animals.

Biomass is full of energy, which it gets from the sun. Plants capture sunlight and convert it into energy-rich carbohydrates. That energy can be passed on to an animal when it eats the plants. Humans can then use things from these organisms, like logs, harvested corn, and animal waste to make heat, electricity, or liquid fuel.

How Biomass Energy Works


Wood pellets

Wood is one of the simplest and oldest forms of biomass energy. Even cavemen burned wood to keep themselves warm and cook meat. Biomass heating systems can burn wood pellets or other biomass materials to provide heat for homes and businesses.


Biomass can be used to make electricity, which is what's done in a waste-to-energy plant. Waste, or garbage, has a lot of once living things mixed into it like food scraps, paper, and grass clippings. This waste can be burned to heat water, which turns into steam. The steam turns a turbine, which is a machine with blades that spin like a fan. The spinning blades transfer energy to an electricity generator that makes electricity.

A biogas plant can turn methane into energy.

Did you know that when a cow passes gas, it can be turned into electricity? Methane is a gas that is given off by animal and landfill wastes. Methane is the same gas found in natural gas. Like natural gas, methane can be captured and burned to spin a turbine and generate electricity.


The next time your mom or dad fills up the family car with gasoline, take a close look at the pump to see if you can spot the word ethanol. Ethanol is a type of biofuel. It's a liquid fuel that's made from corn or sugar cane. Gas stations mix ethanol with gasoline to reduce the amount of fossil fuels used to run our vehicles.

Biodiesel is another type of biofuel that can be used in vehicles. It's made from things like vegetable oil, recycled grease, and animal fat.

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