The ongoing protests against oil drilling in the West Sussex village of Balcombe have called many people to assess their view on fracking and its impact on local communities – with many concerned by the environmental impact plus the concerns about water contamination and potential earthquakes. The government meanwhile seems gripped by an “obsession” with fracking and blind to the greener alternatives currently available. The Anaerobic Digestion and Biogas Association, the industry trade body, calculates that a tenth of the UK’s domestic gas needs could be supplied by bio-gas, given the UK’s resources in waste and agricultural products.
Bio-gas energy is fuelled by burning methane produced by the decomposition of organic wastes. Just about any organic waste can be decomposed as a methane generator – plant (soft material is better than woody material) and animal wastes, and even human waste. At present, according to estimates from the government’s Waste Resource and Action Programme, the UK throws away a shocking 15m tonnes of food waste a year, from homes, industry and retail. Imagine the economic value if this waste were to be converted to energy on a commercial or domestic scale.
Leila Deen, energy campaigner at Greenpeace, said: “With the right policies in place, biogas could provide up to half the UK’s domestic heat, reduce landfill and help us achieve our climate change targets. But David Cameron has yet failed to acknowledge biogas’s potential. If his government put half as much effort into incentivising green energy like biogas as it does into foisting fracking on communities that don’t want it, the UK would be well on its way to long term energy security. Biogas would actually help farmers and people in rural communities, rather than incensing them.”
Whilst the goverment looks for ways to press on and ignore popular and local opinion, there are alternatives. In the short term it could be down to the domestic home to demonstrate how efficient biogas conversion can be. While the area is still being explored there are several options beginning to emerge that could revolutionise sustainable living.
Thought up by designer Lee Angie, the ingenious Revive Waste Receptacle (above) is an intelligent design concept thatcould encourage more people to take food waste recycling seriously. It’s not just about turning leftovers into compost because this device uses the humus created by decaying kitchen scraps and extracts the biomass energy, creating electricity out of the methane. A free and simple way to charge phones and gadgets, this concept will promote food waste recycling and demonstrate the rationality behind using more natural and sustainable energy sources.
While commercially available products are not yet widely offered, people across the world have been creating their own DIY biogas digesters and the internet full of open source designs to help anyone wanting to give it a go. Instructables offers an almost unmatchable step by step guide on producing your own mini bio-digester. And Small Farm is also a valuable resource that explores the pros and cons of a DIY methane generator.
Not only is it down to domestic food waste as around 90 million tonnes of animal waste are produced in the UK each year, only a tiny portion of which is used for energy production. Sewage treatment plants are also overlooked. Bio-gas could be poured into the national gas grid and used for heating homes, burned to generate electricity, or used in specially adapted vehicles.
So while we wait for the government to remmber that they once promised to be the greenest government ever, we need to implement the use of bio-gas within our own homes, and lead by example by demonstrating that localised renewable alternatives are available; alternatives that wont risk the contamination of water sources or localised earthquakes. When its put that way, is there really any competition here?