Sources of Biomass


Types of Biomass

The main types of biomass resources are:

Short Rotation Forestry

This is the production of wood fuel through the cultivation of high-yielding trees at close spacing on short time rotations. Species such as willow and poplar are ideal for Short Rotation Forestry, as they are easy to establish, fast growing, suitable for a variety of sites and resistant to pests and disease.

Land for short rotation forestry is likely to come from two sources, namely: non-rotational arable set aside land and land outside the existing arable pool – currently in beef or sheep production.

Download Short Rotation Coppice Willow Best Practice Guidelines 2010 - Teagasc and Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute of Northern Ireland

Energy Crops

Liquid biofuel energy crops

These crops are grown for the production of liquid transport fuels. Different conversion techniques are used to produce biodiesel, bioethanol and biomethanol. Biodiesel is derived from oil crops such as oilseed rape and camelina (an oil-seed crop with an oil yield similar to that of oilseed rape). Bioethanol is produced from crops such as wheat, sugarbeet, sweet sorghum and woody crops. Research on the production of biomethanol from various biomass sources such as grasses, short rotation forestry, crop residues and municipal solid waste is ongoing. Liquid biofuels can be incorporated as blends with petrol/diesel fuels or used on their own as a replacement fuel.

Hemp and miscanthus

Other energy crops such as hemp and miscanthus (elephant grass) have been investigated for their suitability as a source of biomass fuel. Cultivation of hemp has the advantage in that being an annual plant, farmer’s experience of dealing with annual tillage crops could easily be applied to it and existing farming machinery used for harvesting etc.

Download Miscanthus Best Practice Guide 2010 - Teagasc and Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute of Northern Ireland


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Wood Wastes
Wood wastes or by-products from wood processing industries e.g. chips, bark and sawdust. These are used within sawmills and board mills to provide heat for drying or space heating and to raise steam for the manufacturing process. However, surplus quantities are generally available on the open market.
Agricultural Residues

Residues from animals

Agricultural residues e.g. animal slurry and manure, chicken litter, spent mushroom compost and straw. Disposal of some of these residues poses an environmental problem. It is estimated that the total amount of agricultural waste in Ireland in 1998 was approximately 65 million tonnes. Wet wastes such as cattle and pig manure are suitable for anaerobic digestion, while wastes with a lower moisture content e.g. chicken litter and spent mushroom compost can be combusted.


This is animal fat of variable quality. Previously, much of this would have been used for animal feed production, but with restrictions regarding the use of bovine offals due to BSE, increased quantities are available for alternative use. Investigation of the possibility of using tallow as a biofuel has been conducted at Teagasc. While further research is required, indications are that tallow can be used in small quantities in blends with waste vegetable oil and camelina.


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Sewage Sludge
Municipal Solid Waste (MSW), food processing waste, and sewage sludge – all of these wastes can be converted to energy, in the form of biogas, through the process of anaerobic digestion. The organic fraction of MSW is collected from households and commercial premises etc. It is estimated that over two million tonnes of MSW were produced in Ireland in 1998. Sewage sludge is a by-product of wastewater treatment. With EU regulations influencing the treatment of waste, increased amounts of wastes are available as a source of affordable biomass fuel.
Industrial Residues

Waste vegetable oil - from the catering industry

97% of recovered vegetable oil traditionally was used in animal feed production but this practice is now banned under EU regulations. Waste oil can be processed to produce biodiesel and the successful use of this as a transport biofuel has been demonstrated in light vehicles at Teagasc, Oakpark, Co. Carlow.


These consist of the tree tops and branches remaining after timber is harvested. Some forest residues need to be left on the forest floor to decompose and return nutrients to the soil and also to act as brash mats, which allow machinery to travel across soft ground. However, a lot of this material could be harvested with suitable machinery and used as a renewable fuel for energy production.




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