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Biomass energy ("bioenergy") is energy generated from a biologically derived material from a living or recently living organism (animal or plant). Biomass energy includes a large number of "fuels" ranging from waste wood and food to switchgrass and algae grown specifically to use as fuel.

Can your business use bio for power?

Your business may generate biowaste material which can be converted into power through digestion to generate heat and power, through direct combustion, or by conversion into a liquid fuel. You also have the option to use someone else's biowaste or to grow a crop that will provide the energy type you need. As you explore these options, keep in mind that depending upon your primary business and the existing air and/or waste permits you have, you may need to get permits to use or take other's waste materials or modify your permit based on the fuel input. Proper emission controls are necessary to ensure that the creation of particulate matter (PM), nitrogen oxides (NOX), volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and carbon monoxide (CO) are not causing an environmental problem rather than solving one.


One of the most common biowaste opportunities in Pennsylvania arises from the ability to anaerobically digest manure, food wastes, and wastewater treatment materials.

For farmers, the Penn State Agricultural Extension Office has a lot of available information on their site.

DEP has created the General Permit WMGM042 (PDF) for anaerobic digestion of animal manure on a farm mixed with (i) grease trap waste (collected from restaurants or grocery stores) and (ii) pre-consumer and post-consumer food waste from commercial or institutional establishments.

The EPA has two useful sites, their AgSTAR program and a large listing of the various Federal regulations that impact farms who want to do digestion, including links back to DEP sites:
Guidelines and Permitting for Livestock Anaerobic Digesters

Direct combustion

When looking to burn a biomass material for space or process heat, one needs to be sure that emissions from the process are correctly managed; you should contact your DEP office for information regarding air quality permit requirements. DEP is one of many partners of a program "Pennsylvania Fuels for Schools & Communities" that looks to use wood waste materials (and other biomass products) as fuel sources for special boilers. Their resource materials are a good start for any business, not just schools, considering direct combustion.

Liquid Fuel

Biofuels are used for transportation and heating once it is converted into a liquid fuel. An example of this is biodiesel which can be made from animal or vegetable fats or waste restaurant grease. Two great resources to learn more about the costs and benefits of these fuels are the Energy Information Administration: Biofuels & Biodiesel and the DOE's Alternative Fuels Data Center.

Pennsylvania Food Waste to Renewable Energy Assessment

The Pennsylvania Food Waste to Renewable Energy Assessment is intended to provide the Commonwealth and its partners with the foundation to participate in larger, cross-functional, food waste reduction strategies involving Commonwealth agencies, non-profits, and the private sector. It is the first of its kind attempt to understand the amount of industrial, commercial, and institutional (ICI) food waste diverted via anaerobic digestion (AD) and composting in Pennsylvania. Prior to this assessment, no publicly available dataset comprehensively identified all AD and compost facilities processing ICI food waste or documented the amounts accepted and the additional capacities available.

Key report components include:

  • Estimation of the quantities of food waste generated by Industrial, Commercial, and Institutional (ICI) sources within Pennsylvania
  • Analysis of the amount of ICI food waste currently processed by existing anaerobic digestion (AD) and composting facilities and the ability of these facilities to increase food waste processing capacity
  • Analysis of the greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction opportunities and renewable energy generation potential associated with ICI food waste processing
  • Case studies of six ICI food waste generators and processors to identify challenges, best practices, and success stories.
  • A database of all ICI food waste generators and processors evaluated during the assessment in GIS format to allow for further analysis of local and regional food waste reduction initiatives. GIS files available upon request.


The Pennsylvania Food Waste to Renewable Energy Assessment provides a comprehensive analysis of ICI food waste generation and processing, but this represents only a portion of the food waste management system within Pennsylvania. Although the residential and agricultural sectors are significant generators of food waste, they are not within the scope of this assessment. This was done in order to focus on identifying diversion potential and best practices from the largest generators of food waste.

Food waste generation examined in this assessment include expired food at retailers, post-consumer food scraps at restaurants and cafeterias, unused ingredients at food manufacturers, and organic by-products from food and beverage manufacturing. This project was partly funded through DEP’s State Energy Program funds from the U.S. Department of Energy.