Thursday, February 5, 2009

Gas from waste, a solution?

BBC News recently ran an article suggesting that green gas produced from waste could heat about half of the homes in the UK according to a report from the National Grid. Not only that, but the renewable gas would reduce carbon emissions, increase the UK’s energy security, and help reduce the amount of landfills in the country. The report says that a £10 billion investment could increase the amount of gas coming from renewable sources from 1% to about 18%. Is this investment worth it?

About 47% of CO2 emissions in the UK come from heating, significantly more than electricity and transportation. In the US, a lot of emphasis has been placed on reducing CO2 emissions from cars due to our heavy dependence on them, but in a country with a significantly better mass transportation system, it would make sense for money to be spent on R&D in other areas. The green gas is produced from anaerobic digestion of waste. Anaerobic microorganisms are able to break down waste in the absence of oxygen, which produces a methane and CO2 rich biogas suitable for energy production. If this gas was allowed to escape to the atmosphere, it would be about 20 times more potent as a greenhouse gas then CO2 alone. It makes sense for this gas to be captured and put to good use. Anaerobic digestion facilities have recently been recognized as being less capital intensive than large power plants. Furthermore, the resulting gas can be transported through pre-existing pipelines to heat homes.

This process is not only up for further consideration in the UK, but also here in the US in Nebraska. As an agriculturally focused state, a great amount of by-product is produced from the livestock. Senator Ben Nelson is hoping to make the resulting biogas a commercial alternative to traditional natural gas with the help of the federal government. He’s hoping to create a tax-incentive that would encourage greater production of the biogas which would in turn create more jobs in rural communities.

In a world with a continuously growing population, concern needs to be extended not only towards diminishing fossil fuels but also the waste the population produces. By capturing the biogas emitted from landfills and using it to heat homes, these two concerns can be addressed. Although it requires a large investment of money, in the long run, fossil fuels will be saved and land will be recovered that can be put to other uses.



Tru Tran said...

Anaerobic digestion is interesting because of its capability to turn waste to greenhouse gas. With this said the U.S. should start investing funds to research more efficient ways to use anaerobic microorganisms to break down waste. Instead of using landfills to store waste, why not use that waste and turn it into energy that we can use. Financially, investing in this project can be costly, but as mention in the blog, the results from this can be great in respects to recycling the waste produce to biofuels and storing what is left of fossil fuels.

taylor12 said...

This is a very interesting concept of renewable energy. I know we were about to touch on this subject in class today, but do you have any information about how this method of release/collection of methane/CO2 has been implemented in the U.S. Currently waste disposal and land for landfills is always an issue with environmentalists and public health concerns. Perhaps this could be a positive spin to an unsightly (and smelly) issue the U.S. currently deals with.