Biomass and Bioenergy Research

Bioenergy and biomass industries are becoming increasingly important to the world’s energy future.

For this reason, biomass and bioenergy research have become important areas of focus for the Biological Engineering Program at N.C. A&T.

New opportunities for biological engineers are expanding in this growing field. For graduate students, the Ph.D. in Energy and Environmental Systems also provides opportunities for experience in Bioenergy research. Our facilities in Sockwell Hall enable an array of cutting edge research projects.

For undergraduates with an interest in biofuels or bioproducts, the degree in Biological Engineering, Bioprocessing track is a great opportunity to get exposure to biomass and bioenergy research taking place at N.C. A&T.

Please peruse the site to learn more about Bioenergy research at N.C. A&T. We encourage you to contact the Biological Engineering Program to learn about how we can help get you started in a career as a biological engineer.

What is Bioenergy?

Bioenergy is the solar energy stored in organic matter or biomass. Bioenergy research is the ongoing development of technology that efficiently extracts energy from biomass resources. This type of research encompasses many technologies, including biopower and biofuels.

What is Biomass?

Biomass can be of plant or animal origin. Biomass is considered to be a renewable material because it can be replenished in a recurring manner. Biomass resources, or “feedstocks,” include agricultural residue, pulp/paper sludge, saw mill residue, urban wood waste, forest residue, energy crops, landfill gas, and animal waste.


Biopower is the use of biomass to generate thermal or electric power. Biopower technologies can be used in small and modular systems. A small and modular system generates electricity at a capacity of 5 megawatts or less. This system is designed for use at the small town level or even at the consumer level. For example, some farmers use the waste from their livestock to provide their farms with electricity. Not only do these systems provide renewable energy, they also help farmers and ranchers meet environmental regulations. The major biopower systems include direct combustion, co-firing, thermal gasification, anaerobic digestion, and pyrolysis, defined as follows:

  • Direct Combustion: Biomass feedstocks are burned directly to produce steam. This steam is then used by a turbine and a generator to produce electric power. Most of the biopower plants in the world use direct combustion systems in their operation.
  • Co-firing: Involves using biomass feedstocks as a supplementary energy source in high efficiency boilers. Many coal-fired power plants can use a mixture of biomass and coal in co-fired systems to significantly reduce their emissions, especially sulfur dioxide emissions.
  • Thermal Gasification: Uses high temperature and an oxygen-starved environment to convert biomass into a mixture of combustible gas (hydrogen, carbon monoxide, and methane). The gaseous fuel is then used by a gas turbine to generate electric power.
  • Anaerobic digestion: Involves using bacteria to decompose volatile organic matter in the absence of oxygen. The anaerobic decay of biomass produces biogas (methane and carbon dioxide) that can be used as an energy source. Biogas or methane can be used as an energy source in boiler operation, mechanical or electric power generation.
  • Pyrolysis: Involves the production of liquid fuels and chemicals. Pyrolysis occurs when biomass is heated in the absence of oxygen. The biomass then turns into a liquid called pyrolysis oil, which can be burned like petroleum or can be converted into various chemicals.


Biofuels are liquid or gaseous fuels that are produced from biomass feedstocks. Typical biomass feedstocks for biofuels include sugar crops (sugar cane or sugar beets), starch crops (cereal grain or potato tuber), cellulosic materials (grasses, crop residues, or woody materials), and oil seeds. Four well known biofuels are ethanol, biodiesel, biogas, and hydrogen fuel. Ethanol and hydrogen fuel are produced through microbial fermentation of sugar, starch, and cellulosic materials. Biogas is produced through anaerobic digestion of volatile organic matters, and biodiesel is produced through transesterification of vegetable oil and animal fat.