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Could Human Waste Replace Traditional Central Heating Fuel?

By David Holmes on April 20, 2010

According to UK Government targets, the nation must ensure that 15 per cent of the energy it produces is derived from renewable sources by 2020; however, altering the way in which energy is produced for millions of people can take far longer than 10 years. Furthermore, the UK’s six largest energy companies cannot be relied upon to stimulate change; on the contrary, the energy producers would rather continue to operate in a high-carbon, high-profit market. Aside from changeable government policy, a greener future can be made possible by the group most affected by climate change: the public.

People in Britain can already make changes to improve the health of the planet and its atmosphere. Recycling initiatives are in force throughout much of the UK, whilst new regulations require more energy efficient homes with improved central heating systems. The UK Government’s Boiler Scrappage Scheme, which is no longer available, was one of many incentives offered to the public to improve domestic energy efficiency; homeowners can also avail of potentially lucrative feed-in tariffs on renewable energy installations such as rooftop solar panels and wind turbines. Whilst the idea of generating clean energy from solar cell installations or geothermal pipes is appealing on a number of levels, one of the more effective ways of saving the planet is literally being flushed down the pan.

According to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the UK produces 1.73 million tonnes of sewage sludge each year that could be used to produce biogas. In short, the human waste that is flushed down the toilet every day could be used to produce fuel to help power the nation. This summer, British Gas is teaming up with Thames Water and Scotia Gas Networks to implement the nation’s first network of biomethane gas derived from faecal matter in Didcot, Oxfordshire. Anaerobic digesters are used to create biogas from faeces before turning it into biomethane, which would then be piped to household central heating systems and gas appliances. The entire process from flush to finish is expected to take around 23 days and, if the project proves successful, more people in the UK could find themselves helping to generate clean energy from a decidedly unclean source.