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Poo Power

Will we switch to gas made from human waste?

For most people the waste they eject from their bodies is something they don’t bother thinking about once they’ve shut the toilet door behind them.

But there are some who think human waste could be a major part of a stable gas supply. Just as long as we can overcome our prejudices.

The UK has to ensure that, by 2020, 15% of the energy it produces comes from renewable sources. This, combined with government plans to reward those who pursue this route sooner rather than later, has led to a surge in interest in deriving power from the euphemistically termed “sewage waste”.

With many energy experts already looking forward to the end of North Sea gas, much will hinge on the stability of supply from Russia and the Middle East. Uncertainty could be a driver for the exploration of alternative sources of gas.

The UK produces 1.73 million tonnes of sewage sludge every year, which the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs says could potentially be used to produce biogas.

Anaerobic digesters

And, this summer British Gas, in partnership with Thames Water and Scotia Gas Networks, plan to be the first to start piping biomethane, derived from fecal matter, into the national network and straight back to the homes of 130 customers in Didcot in Oxfordshire.

Anaerobic digesters – carefully managed bacteria – are already used to turn feces into a means of generating electricity, but the additional plant that British Gas will install will clean up the spare biogas and turn it into biomethane which can be used on household hobs and in gas central heating.

It is a way of turning methane into something useful and something which will prevent the displacement of fossil fuels

The whole process should take about 23 days from flush to finish and since the infrastructure is already in place, British Gas say that the test customers would not notice any difference in the final product.

The most crucial thing for many consumers will be the issue of smell. The new biomethane will smell just like the standard natural gas supply.

Anaerobic = relating to, involving, or requiring an absence of free oxygen
Prejudices = preconceived opinion that is not based on reason or actual experience
(this is an important word, how else can we talk about the concept of prejudice?)
Hinge = a central point or principal upon which everything depends.
Hob = stove

1.    Is this a good source of energy? Will humans produce enough waste to sustain this poo power?
2.    Do you think the process of converting fecal matter into energy will be a high-energy process? Meaning, will it use a lot of energy just in the conversion process?
3.    What other ideas do you have that relate to this concept of using waste and turning it into power? Could this be done with ordinary waste such as trash? Recyclables? Even toxic waste?
4.    Do you think there will be a difference in smell and its ability to provide energy?

5. Act as though Brazil needs this energy source in order to continue powering the country. How can you make this idea sound appealing to them? Talk about the process and how it will be equal to fossil fuels in terms of usage and smell. Use these references below to show that other countries are already utilizing this new alternative energy source.

In Oslo biomethane is used to power public buses
False Creek Energy Centre in Vancouver used human waste to ensure athletes stayed warm during the Winter Olympics
In Rwanda, prisoners’ waste is used to generate the heat to cook their food

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