Saturday, June 6, 2009

ALTERNATIVE ENERGY: Innovative Environmental Services Turn Biowaste Into Bio Fuel‏

No LandfillImage by The Voice of Eye via Flickr

by Dominic Donaldson

Sustainable solutions for waste management are on the horizon as more technologies are being developed to find an alternative to traditional waste management. We take a look at the way environmental services are processing biowaste in a bid to provide a greener future for generations to come.

Biowastes come from organic matter such as kitchen scraps, sewage and manure. This category also includes items such as cloth and paper as long as they are not composed of any synthetic materials. Putting this type of waste into a landfill site can create a build up of methane, which in the past has been the cause of an underground fire. Environmental services ensure that there is an outlet for the gas, but this is release a large amount of methane into the atmosphere.

Methane is a greenhouse gas, and therefore under protocols set through the United Nations, emissions must be cut along with carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide, sulphur hexafluoride, hydrofluorocarbons and perfluorocarbons. The Kyoto Protocol is an international agreement to address global climate change and it states that industrialised countries should reduce their emissions by 2010 to prevent irreversible climate change.

As part of this agreement, the European Union has pledged to reduce its collective emissions of greenhouse gasses by around 5 per cent of 1999 levels. This commitment has encouraged governments to promote household recycling and support local councils in providing environmental services that will help achieve a reduction in emissions.

It is now possible to incinerate biowaste to produce energy. Not only does the way the waste is processed release a much smaller proportion of methane into the atmosphere, it also generates energy from a previously untapped source. In essence it solves three problems in one move. It reduces landfill waste, cuts greenhouse emissions and produces energy.

Incineration uses a process called anaerobic digestion to produce biogas. Incineration utilises the ability of micro organisms to break down the digestible components of organic matter in an oxygen free environment. The biogas produced by this method can be used to power generators, and can even be used as a fuel for vehicles.

To make the most of this opportunity, environmental services in Europe are making provisions for collecting organic material that can be used to produce biogas in an attempt to meet targets for 2010. To make the technology succeed it is essential that high quality biowastes can be collected to produce fuels that do not pose a contamination risk, or uncontrolled release of the gasses that need to reduced.

Dom Donaldson is an environment expert.
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