Good morning! Hope those poached eggs and toast that you had for breakfast have settled in nicely.
A recent article published in the BBC Magazine tackles an important brown-colored green issue that might upset those with delicate sensibilities. It's all about the, ahem, movement to overcome poo-related prejudices, move away from the use of fossil fuels, and move forward with using human waste-derived biogas as a viable home energy source.
As noted in the article, converting waste (human or otherwise) into power isn’t exactly a novel concept. On visits to China in the 13th century, Marco Polo discovered covered sewage tanks used to generate power and even the street lamps in genteel Victorian England were poo-powered. Today, the practice of turning human waste into home energy does indeed happen across the world but in somewhat limited applications. In the UK, that's about to change.
In anticipation that natural gas supplies in the North Sea will eventually be tapped, British researchers are looking to expand the use of methane-recovering anaerobic digesters — long used for wastewater treatment and in agricultural settings — in a closed-loop system that will make good use of the 1.73 million tonnes of sewage sludge produced in the U.K. every year (see the above diagram for how exactly it works).
For a test run this summer, British Gas is partnering with Thames Water and Scotia Gas Networks to inject sewage-derived biomethane into the national energy grid and straight into the homes of 130 customers in Oxfordshire. After each flush, it will take 23 days for the waste to go through the treatment process and reenter the homes as biogas. The sludge-y “leftovers,” effluent, from the anaerobic digestion process will be used as fertilizer.
British Gas insists that customers won’t be subject to an offensive odor and that biomethane smells no differently than standard natural gas. This should calm any worries that each time that a gas stove is lit, a kitchen will reek like an overflowing port-o-potty. Other U.K. utility providers are also looking into the possibility of injecting biomethane into the grid in the future.
Dr. Guy Hitchcock, head of Exeter University's Centre for Energy and the Environment, remarks that it's "a way of turning methane into something useful and something which will prevent the displacement of fossil fuels." Hitchcock goes on to point out that poop-power does have its limitations: “We produce what we produce and we use it. The resource is obviously limited by what we produce.”
So I guess we have to keep on makin' poops. I don't think that should be a problem.
Take a look at the entire article here. All sounds good to me — I think our dependence on fossil fuels is much more gross than transforming stinky into energy. Any thoughts?