What is Biomass Power?

Energy can be recovered from a wide range of organic materials, like farm manure, wastewater sludge and food wastes. But wood makes up the bulk of the nation’s biomass fuel supply, mostly because there’s a large supply of wood fiber that has little value, like debris from forest management and timber harvests, storm clean up and landscaping debris, and wood byproducts from the manufacture of wood goods, like lumber, board, and paper. Most biomass power generation is done with conventional steam turbine systems that simply substitute renewable biomass for coal.

On average, Michigan ranks between third and fifth among the nation’s 17 states that host grid-connected, wood-fired power generators. Nationally, the forest products industry produces the most wood-based energy by gathering its own byproducts to produce heat and electricity for their internal operations. However, independent power producers like Michigan Biomass members provide electricity exclusively to the grid under long-term wholesale power contracts to Michigan utilities, helping them provide renewable, reliable power to their customers.

Biomass power is a baseload generation resource, which means it can run where and when it’s needed, and that provides a suite of infrastructure and reliability benefits not found in intermittent renewable resources like wind and solar. Biomass power can produce electricity when the sun isn’t shining and the wind is blowing, making them a suitable, renewable resource for backup power that can replace similar fossil fuel generation, like natural gas.


Electricity produced from sustainable organic sources like wood fiber is a renewable energy resource, and in most states, including Michigan, it qualifies for renewable energy programs. In 2019, power from Michigan’s biomass power plants provided electric customers with 15% of their renewable energy.

But it’s their baseload capacity – the ability to make power around the clock – that makes it a valuable renewable resource that brings diversity to the bulk power supply. Biomass power produces more than 5 times the energy from the same sized solar installation, and more than twice as much as a wind turbine.

The U.S. EPA has twice recognized biomass power as carbon neutral. Because it is not a fossil fuel that releases additional carbon into the atmosphere, biomass carbon emissions from wood left behind from logging, forest products manufacturing, and forest maintenance is considered biogenic. It’s part of the natural carbon cycle between the atmosphere and plants, which can be managed to offset fossil fuel emissions, enhance the forest’s ability to sequester more carbon.

This Photo by Unknown Author is licensed under CC BY

Technical Benefits

Renewable power generated from biomass resources is not like power from wind and solar. We generate baseload renewable electricity 24-7 when the wind doesn’t blow, and the sun doesn’t shine.

Firm & Reliable

That means we provide electricity at critical times when other generators can’t, such as during extreme weather events, or supply constraints on commodity fuels like natural gas and propane.

Renewable biomass can displace important baseload generation currently provided by coal and natural gas, which energy planners say is still needed today and well into our renewable energy future, with less impact on climate change.

Technical Benefits

This Photo by Unknown Author is licensed under CC BY

Grid Support

Michigan Biomass members, like most biomass plants, are in rural areas close to the forest and agriculture fuel resources they rely on. That means fewer miles of transmission lines and lower transmission costs in those areas, which saves electric customers money and improves system reliability.

These baseload attributes include production of VARs, a characteristic of electricity needed to start large industrial equipment like heavy motors, pumps and compressors.

Energy Diversity

Biomass energy resources are not commodity fuels, and that means it brings economic and supply diversity and stability to the region’s energy portfolio.

  • It’s baseload renewable power, unlike most renewable energy systems that are intermittent. This brings great reliability and other support to the grid that wind and solar can’t.
  • On-site fuel is energy storage at a time when battery storage is still being developed and deployed.
  • As a non-commodity fuel, biomass isn’t subject to price volatility and supply disruptions like can happen with conventional fuels used for power generation, such as oil and gas that are used to make important materials like plastics, fertilizers, and pharmaceuticals. Biomass does not compete with these uses.
  • It uses local roads and local truck transport to supply our biomass, so the flow of fuel is not affected by pipeline, shipping, or rail disruptions.
  • Biomass is homegrown energy and doesn’t rely on imports from other states or nations, where political upheaval can disrupt supplies. Solar manufacturing often relies on precious metals and rare earths mined abroad, while wind turbine construction is known to use components manufactured overseas. Biomass is local power made from local resources.
Energy Diversity

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