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Biomass Origins, Uses, Extraction Techniques, and Testing

Biomass is a key player in renewable energy and sustainable material solutions.

by | Mar 27, 2024

Biomass is a broad category that refers to organic materials derived from living, or recently living organisms including plants, animals, microorganisms, and/or their byproducts. The primary types of biomass include the following:

  • Plant Biomass
  • Animal Biomass
  • Microbial Biomass
  • Waste Biomass
  • Aquatic Biomass

Uses of Biomass

Biomass plays an increasingly crucial role in the transition to a more sustainable, circular economy and can have numerous different applications including as a source of energy, materials, and chemicals. Some uses of biomass include the following:

  • Bioenergy Production
  • Biobased Materials
  • Renewable Heat and Power
  • Soil Amendment

How is Biomass Extracted

Biomass extraction techniques involve the separation of components from their source of origin. Depending on the biomass and the desired outcome, various biomass extraction techniques are used:

  • Solvent Extraction:
    • Solvent extraction involves using organic solvents to dissolve and extract the target compounds from the biomass. The biomass is typically crushed or ground to increase the surface area, and then a suitable solvent (such as ethanol, methanol, or hexane) is used to extract the desired components. The solvent is later evaporated, leaving behind the extracted compounds.
  • Steam Distillation:
    • Steam distillation is used for extracting volatile compounds, such as essential oils, from plants. Steam is passed through the biomass, causing the volatile compounds to evaporate. The vapor is then condensed, resulting in a mixture of essential oil and water, which can be separated.
  • Supercritical Fluid Extraction (SFE):
    • Supercritical fluids, such as carbon dioxide (CO2) at specific conditions, are used to extract compounds without leaving solvent residues. Under supercritical conditions, CO2 behaves both as a liquid and a gas, enhancing its solvent properties. This method is considered environmentally friendly, and the extracted compounds can be easily separated by depressurizing the system.
  • Pressurized Liquid Extraction (PLE):
    • PLE is a technique that uses elevated pressure and temperature with liquid solvents to enhance extraction efficiency. The biomass is loaded into an extraction cell, and a liquid solvent is pumped through at high pressure and temperature. The extracted compounds are then collected, and the solvent can be reused.
  • Ultrasound-Assisted Extraction (UAE):
    • Ultrasound waves are applied to enhance the penetration of solvents into the biomass, improving extraction efficiency. The biomass is mixed with a solvent, and ultrasound waves are applied. The cavitation effect created by ultrasound aids in breaking down cell walls, facilitating the release of target compounds into the solvent.
  • Microwave-Assisted Extraction (MAE):
    • Microwave energy is used to heat the solvent and biomass, accelerating the extraction process. The biomass and solvent are placed in a microwave reactor. The microwave energy rapidly heats the mixture, promoting the extraction of compounds. This method is known for its shorter extraction times compared to traditional methods.
  • Enzyme-Assisted Extraction:
    • Enzymes are used to break down cell walls and facilitate the release of target compounds. The biomass is treated with specific enzymes that digest cell wall components, making the extraction of intracellular compounds more efficient. This method is often used for bioactive compound extraction.

How is  Biomass tested?

Biomass testing involves a series of analyses and assessments to evaluate the composition, quality, and characteristics of biomass materials. The specific tests conducted on biomass depend on the intended use. Here are some common aspects of biomass testing:

  • Proximate Analysis:
    • Moisture Content: Measures the water content in biomass, which can impact its combustion efficiency and energy content.
    • Ash Content: Determines the inorganic mineral content remaining after combustion. High ash content can affect combustion and ash disposal.
  • Ultimate Analysis:
    • Carbon, Hydrogen, Nitrogen, Sulfur (CHNS): Quantifies the elemental composition of biomass. This information is crucial for understanding its potential energy content and combustion properties.
  • Calorific Value:
    • Gross and Net Calorific Value: Measures the energy content of biomass by determining the heat released during combustion. Gross calorific value includes the latent heat of water vapor, while net calorific value excludes it.
  • Ash Fusibility:
    • Determination of Ash Melting Behavior: Assesses the temperature at which biomass ash may melt or form slag during combustion. This information is essential for the design of combustion systems.
  • Particle Size Analysis:
    • Grindability Testing: Evaluates the size distribution of biomass particles. This can impact combustion rates and the efficiency of various processing technologies.
  • Biomass Moisture Sorption:
    • Sorption Isotherm Studies: Measures how much moisture biomass can absorb at different humidity levels. This information is critical for storage and processing considerations.
  • Biochemical Composition:
    • Cellulose, Hemicellulose, and Lignin Content: Determines the relative amounts of these major components in biomass. This information is crucial for various conversion processes, such as biofuel production.
  • Biodegradability Testing:
    • Anaerobic Digestion Studies: Assess the potential of biomass to undergo anaerobic digestion for biogas production. This is relevant for organic waste materials like agricultural residues and manure.
  • Microbial Analysis:
    • Microbial Contamination Testing: Ensures that biomass feedstocks do not contain harmful microorganisms that could affect downstream processes.
  • Purity and Contaminant Analysis:
    • Heavy Metals, Pesticides, and Herbicides Testing: Identifies the presence of contaminants that may affect the suitability of biomass for various applications, especially in the context of bioenergy or bioproducts.
  • Enzymatic Digestibility:
    • Cellulase Digestibility: Measures how easily cellulose in biomass can be broken down by enzymes. This is important for processes like enzymatic hydrolysis in biofuel production.
  • Physical Properties:
    • Bulk Density, Particle Density: Assesses the physical characteristics of biomass, influencing handling, transportation, and storage

How Contract Laboratory Assists with Biomass Testing

At Contract Laboratory, we offer a streamlined solution for biomass testing, helping industries and researchers to efficiently evaluate their biomass products. Our platform connects them with specialized laboratories, making it easier to assess energy content, chemical composition, and moisture content among other crucial parameters. This ensures that biomass products meet the highest standards of quality and sustainability, adhering to industry regulations and optimizing for energy efficiency. This service saves valuable time and resources, guiding clients to the right testing facilities for their specific needs.

If you need a laboraotory for Biomass Testing, feel free to Contact Us or Submit a Laboratory Test Request.

Author

  • Pam Wertalik

    Passionate science/technology entrepreneur and founder of, the first web-based platform for laboratory outsourcing and scientific sourcing. ContractLaboratory.com . Proud, award-winning former FDA, US Food and Drug Administration Consumer Safety Officer, Medical Device Specialist, International Cadre.

    View all posts

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