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Where do trees get their mass from?

Digging up the dirt on how trees grow.

Have you ever wondered where trees
get their mass from?
Have you ever wondered where trees get
their mass from?
• One of the more common answers, as seen in the
video published in 2012 is that the mass (increasingly bigger
size) of a tree comes from the soil. Which makes sense, right?
After all, we are taught that plants need soil (enhanced “dirt”)
to grow. According to Michigan State University Extension,
problems typically arise when asked to explain why there isn’t
a big hole around a tree. If the tree is using soil, then there
must be less soil around it. But studies show virtually no
difference in the amount of soil in a pot when a seed is planted
from the amount of soil in the same pot when the plant from
that seed is harvested. So where does the mass come from?
• The mass of a tree is primarily carbon. The carbon
comes from carbon dioxide used during
photosynthesis. During photosynthesis, plants
convert the sun’s energy into chemical energy which
is captured within the bonds of carbon molecules
built from atmospheric carbon dioxide and water.
Yes, the carbon from carbon dioxide in the air we
breathe out ends up in “food” molecules (called
glucose) each of which contains 6 carbon atoms
(and 12 hydrogen atoms and 6 oxygen atoms).
• However, there is a negative side as well. Plants use the
energy in some of the carbon molecules they make for
the activities to keep themselves alive and to reproduce.
This process is called cellular respiration, which all living
things do. But there are still carbon molecules (glucose)
left over. These left-over glucose molecules are used to
form the complex structures of plants, such as leaves,
stems, branches and roots as well as fruits, seeds, nuts or
vegetables. Each year trees use the left-over carbon
molecules to add to themselves, making themselves
bigger in mass (size).
• Voila! Most of the mass of trees is carbon. The
processes involved are all pretty complicated
and we can thank several Nobel Laureates for
working out the details.
• It is also important to note, the soil acts as an
anchor for the plant through its roots as well
as providing the plant with water and small
amounts of nutrients that plants need, but the
soil itself is not used.
What Are the Major Types of Biomass Fuels

• There are several ways in which biomass materials

can be used as a usable energy source. One is
through combustion or the burning of solid biomass
such as biomass pellets to create heat, in fact using
wood as a fuel is one of the earliest forms of
biomass uses. Direct combustion technology is very
similar to that used for coal just like in a coal-fired
power plant for generating electricity, with the
handling and burning of the solid biomass and coal
being virtually the same.
What Are the Major Types of Biomass Fuels

• Another way is to extract the oils from the organic

sources of sunflower, rapeseed, maize and corn just like
extracting a vegetable oil, or from the unused portions
of crops grown for other purposes such as the chaff,
stalks, shells, husks, and roots. The oils collected can
then be processed and refined for use as a liquid biofuel
in diesel engines. One promising source of liquid biofuel
is micro-algae, which can be grown on aquaculture
farms. In addition, various alcohols can also be extracted
to provide ethanol fuel for gasoline engines.
What Are the Major Types of Biomass Fuels

• Another way in which biomass gets put to use

as an energy source is through recycling
biodegradable materials in landfills. Landfill
gases are by-products of both solid waste and
liquid wastes which contain significant
amounts of organic materials that produce a
variety of gaseous products when dumped,
compacted, and covered in municipal landfills.
What Are the Major Types of Biomass Fuels

• Wet biomass materials can be converted

effectively into usable energy using anaerobic
microbes. Anaerobic bacteria and algae thrive
best in the oxygen-free environment, resulting
in the decomposition of the organic materials
and the production of biogases such as carbon
dioxide and methane.
What Are the Major Types of Biomass Fuels

• As carbon dioxide is soluble in water, it sinks

deeper into the ground out of harms way.
Whereas methane, (the principal component
of natural gas) on the other hand, which is less
soluble in water and much lighter than air
makes its way to the top of the heap and gas
collection facilities capture this methane and
burn it as a bioenergy fuel.
What Are the Major Types of Biomass Fuels

• We have seen that Biomass Energy production

involves converting biological materials or wastes
into substances that can be used as a fuel for
heating, transportation and power generation.
There are many advantages of biomass energy, one
of the key ones being the fact that it is carbon
neutral, but carbon based materials that have been
converted over time into fossil fuels such as coal
and oil, are not considered “biomass”, although in
their original states they could have been.
What Are the Major Types of Biomass Fuels

• There are many different types of biomass energy and

biomass fuel sources available with many of the
biomass, bioenergy and biofuels related terms that
are bandied about used as though they all mean the
same thing. generally speaking, biomass is the organic
non-fossil material of biological origin which can be
used as a renewable energy source. Bioenergy is the
final energy product or useful energy that has been
converted and made available from biomass. While
biofuels are liquid or gaseous fuels of biomass origin.
What Are the Major Types of Biomass Fuels

• Plants grow continuously, animals constantly

produce manure, and people throw away waste
material all the time. Using these items for fuel
does not deplete them because they are always
being made. For this reason, many experts believe
that bioenergy will be a major source of power in
the future. But note that the use of the prefix “bio”
suggests a positive connotation, but biofuels may
also be derived from the non-sustainable cultivation
of energy crops.
What Are the Major Types of Biomass 
To learn more about “Biomass”, or to
understand what is biomass and the
various types of biomass crops you can
use to convert into fuels, chemicals and
power, or just to explore the advantages
and disadvantages of biomass energy.
Thermochemical Processing of Biomass: Conversion into Fuels, 
Chemicals and Power 1st Edition
by Robert C. Brown (Editor), Christian Stevens (Series Editor)
Where Does a Plant's Mass Come From?

Have you ever wondered where plants 
get their mass? All those leaves and 
branches have to come from somewhere, 
but where? It turns out that the main 
ingredients for plant growth are water, 
air, and energy.
Where plants get their mass
The Story of Air

• The air around you may seem empty, but it's not.
• Air is made of tiny bits that we call molecules. If you
had enough air molecules, you could even weigh them.
• Two of the molecules in air are oxygen and carbon
dioxide. You may think oxygen is the most important
molecule—we need it to live. But carbon is important
too. All living things on Earth are made of carbon.
• If you removed the water from our bodies, you would
find that carbon makes up most of the rest of our
weight, or mass. The same is true for plants.
The Story of Air

• Plants don't get carbon

from any of these sources.
The Story of Air

The molecule carbon dioxide is made of

one carbon atom and two oxygen atoms. We get carbon from our food, but where do you 
think plants get carbon? They don't get their 
carbon from the soil, or from the sun, or from 
Plants pull carbon out of the air.
Plants don't get carbon from any of these sources.
Are Plants Made from Thin Air?

• Air is mostly made of nitrogen, oxygen, and carbon

dioxide. So how do plants get the carbon they need to
grow? They absorb carbon dioxide from the air. This
carbon makes up most of the building materials that
plants use to build new leaves, stems, and roots. The
oxygen used to build glucose molecules is also from
carbon dioxide.
• Water is another important material plants need to grow,
and they get it by absorbing it through their roots. Water
is made of two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom. The
hydrogen in water is used to help build glucose molecules.
Are Plants Made from Thin Plants need energy from the sun, water from the
Air? soil, and carbon from the air to grow.

A plant can be up to 95% water. Think

of the water as the filler they use
between carbon structures. If we take
away the water from a plant though,
and look at just the dry material, a
large majority of that material comes
from thin air.
Plants also need tiny bits of vitamins
and minerals to grow properly, which
they get through their roots.
Plants need a lot of energy to take care
of their cells and to build new ones so
they can grow. Plants get their energy
from the sun.
The Carbon Story
Plants absorb carbon dioxide through small openings called stomata that are on the surface of the leaf.

If we zoom in on a plant leaf, so close that we can see the cells, we'll find tiny
openings called stomata. Stomata are holes made from spaces between special cells.
These holes are where plants absorb carbon dioxide from the air.
Circled inside the plant cell is one of hundreds
The Carbon Story of chloroplasts that live within the cell.

Once inside the leaf, the carbon

dioxide can enter plant cells. Inside the
plant cells are special cell parts called
chloroplasts, where photosynthesis
takes place.
Plant cells look green due to molecules
in the chloroplasts that reflect green
light. There are many, many
chloroplasts in every green plant cell.
Most of the rest of the cell usually
looks clear.
In the chloroplasts, carbon, oxygen,
hydrogen, and energy are used to
make a sugar called glucose. The
whole process of making glucose is
called photosynthesis.
The Carbon Story

Next, glucose molecules combine to form long chains called cellulose.

Cellulose is then used to build plant structures, like cell walls.
Molecules of glucose join together to form cellulose.
The Carbon Story
Some plants are as much as 95% water.
Click for more.
Water, which can make up to
95% of the weight of a plant,
enters the plant through its
Carbon, which makes up the
most of the rest of the plant,
comes from the air and enters
the plant through holes in its
Oxygen from carbon dioxide,
and hydrogen from water,
enter through the leaves and
roots, and are used to make
Energy, which the plant needs
for photosynthesis to work, is
absorbed from sunlight.
The Carbon Story 
In order to grow, plants need water, carbon 
dioxide (from air), and energy from sunlight. 
The Carbon Story
As more cells divide, the plant's leaves, stems,
and roots can grow larger.
These structures and the
materials they hold are also
built with water.
When new cell structures are
built, cells can grow and
divide, making new cells.
These new cells make for
new plant growth. This lets
the plants get bigger.
So if you are creating a
cookbook of life and want to
include a recipe for plant
growth you would add the
What is Biomass and how is Biomass Energy Made

What is Biomass
• What is Biomass or more importantly what is the
definition of “biomass”. Every tree, crop and living
plant that grows on the planet Earth has energy
inside it, and bioenergy is the generalised term
used for all living matter that has the ability of
storing this energy. As with most living things,
energy is stored in the form of carbohydrates,
including celluloses, starches and sugars, that are
produced as part of the process of photosynthesis.
• The process of photosynthesis enables green plants
to capture the electromagnetic radiation from the
sun and transform it into chemical energy, with the
biomass energy obtained by reversing this
photosynthesis process. The stored energy within
the living matter is released when the chemical
compounds within the organic materials are broken
down due to decomposition. The organic residues
left over from this process being called biomass.
• Then biomass uses plants as sources of energy
with the term “Biomass” in its broadest sense
being used to describe organic matter
produced by living organisms and therefore,
biomass sources can potentially comprise of a
wide variety of different natural materials
from liquids to solids to gas.
• Biomass energy is very advantageous because it can be
produced from a total natural process and source and is
therefore regarded as a “green”, and climate-friendly form
of energy making biomass energy a renewable energy
resource compared to fossil fuels.
• There are a lot of ways that energy can be made. The
burning of fossil fuels, the utilisation of the sunshine to
generate solar energy or by making use of the flow of
water for hydroelectric generators, all these are ways of
creating energy. Even the Earth’s core can be used to
produce geothermal energy.
• However today, biomass is quickly becoming the largest growing source of
renewable energy around the world and it continuous to grow, helping us
reduce our consumption of fossil fuels and extending the life of our
• Biomass materials and other forms of renewable energy materials aim to
be carbon negative or at the very least carbon neutral. Carbon neutral
means that the carbon released during the use of the fuel is reabsorbed
and balanced by the carbon absorbed by new plant growth during
photosynthesis. The biomass crops are then harvested to make the next
batch of fuel, thus maintaining the cycle of carbon within the Earth and its
atmosphere without adding to the problem. Although the environmental
impacts of burning biomass are less harmful than those associated with
fossil fuel coal, it can be more harmful than those associated with burning
natural gas.
• But what is biomass material and what types of biomass crops
can be used? The most common example of biomass is that of
wood, but we have said previously that biomass can be made
out of all the natural things, and this is true. Starting from
agricultural and forestry products, some of the energy crops
grown around the world include trees, plants, wood, grasses,
animal wastes and slurries, with just about any plant or animal
you can think of in between being used to produce biomass
crops. As humans are an integral part of the systems that make
life, even the waste from human beings can be a source of
biomass as well as the rubbish we throw away, all these things
can be used to produce biomass and bioenergy.
• Biomass can be used in solid form, but the
advantages of biomass is that through a wide
range of conversion and refining processes, it
can be made into both liquids or gases. These
biomass solids, liquids and gases can then be
used to produce electrical power, heat, new
chemicals, and even combustible liquid fuels.