Biomass is vegetation and organic animal wastes that have been generated in recent times. At this writing about 4 percent of the energy used in the United States is produced by biomass-fueled systems. A little less than half comes from the burning of firewood in stoves used for space heating or for cooking. The remainder comes from corn or sugar used in the production of alcohol (gasohol) as a vehicular fuel, and the burning of municipal solid wastes.
Aside from the United Kingdom which provides less than 1 percent of its energy needs using biomass, the United States is unique among the countries of the world in using such a small fraction. In highly developed countries such as Denmark, Austria, Sweden, or Finland, the percentage is as high as 10 percent. But in developing countries biomass supplies an average of 36 percent of the energy requirements. In India, a more prosperous developing country, the percentage is 56 percent. In Tanzania, it is 97 percent.
The United States Department of Energy hopes that within 20 years biomass will be able to supply between 15 and 20 percent of the energy requirements of this country and perhaps double that in 40 years. The United Nations issued a report in which their technicians maintained the world should be able to have 55 percent of its energy from biomass by the year 2050. One could even be somewhat skeptical of both estimates, and yet be convinced that biomass will ultimately replace a substantial portion of the energy now supplied by fossil fuels.