Waste not, Want not

December 31st, 2010

This may not be a festive post, but 'tis the season of excess waste and cringe-inducing heating bills. One city in Sweden has managed to convert to an almost entirely to a biomass heating and electric system. As I sit here in my frigid flat, typing in my fingerless gloves, downing cup after cup of hot tea in attempt to stay warm, I'm utterly frustrated by the costly fossil fuel system at play in my poorly insulated Scotland flat. This year, the unusual cold spell has not been exclusive to Edinburgh or Scotland, but all parts of the UK have experienced record breaking lows. I spent Christmas this year with friends in an Ireland blanketed in more snow than anyone could remember. Actually, it was a challenge for anyone to remember the last time Ireland even had a dusting of snow. Conversation at Christmas dinner inevitably swung into the risky topic of global warning and politics, a topic I'd venture to bet graced many tables around the world that day. Though there were disagreements, no one could deny the odd change in the jet stream pattern nor ignore the foot of snow just out the door.

  

Looking to the city of Kristianstad, Sweden, the world can no longer deny the viability of a more sustainable citywide biomass energy system. Fulfilling a decade-old vow, this city of 80,000 is able to heat its homes throughout the long cold winters without using virtually any oil, coal or natural gas. Energy is now generated from community waste, such as potato peels, used cooking oil, manure and animal byproducts. Its then all transformed into biogas, which can be burned to create heat and electricity or refined into fuel for cars, as Elizabeth Rosenthal stated in her in-depth article for the NYTimes on December 10th. Kristianstad is notable for its operation size and expansive coverage, but it is not alone. More than 5,000 biomass systems generate power in Germany, though many operate on a smaller scale. It is true that biogas still releases emissions into the atmosphere when burned, but far less the oil or coal, and if the products were left to decompose naturally, they would release the gases anyhow without benefiting anyone. The US is far behind the game, lacking large centralized processing plants, biomass supply networks and energy sale outlets. A few building sites are in negotiation for future plants, so its worth keeping your eyes and ears open for developments. Finally, I don't pretend to be an expert on the technology behind biomass systems, so I've included a few diagrams that helped me to understand the process.

   

Caroline Engel for Danish Teak Classics

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