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Harnessing Waste to Generate Renewables

Despite the widespread notion that we have inadequate means to support our energy consumption, the US actually has enough from wind, solar, and tidal & wave to produce a total of approximately 6,987 terawatts of power per year. That’s far beyond the 3.9 terawatts the country currently uses. However, much of this prospective energy goes unharvested. Still, we are coming closer to attaining free energy, and the move to renewable energy has opened up a lot of room for experimentation and discovery. Beyond utilizing sources that harbor seemingly infinite promise, we are finding ways to deplete existing waste by converting it into energy. So far, this appears to be a win-win ecologically, as solid waste and organic matter taken out of landfills and sewers, all the while providing yet another seemingly infinite source of energy.

UK utility company 2OC has signed on with Britain’s largest water company, Thames, to collect fat wastes, which will then be converted into energy. In the 20-year deal Thames pledges to utilize the renewable energy for half of all their operations. This percentage is furthermore expected to increase with time.

In particular, they will derive energy from oils, fats, and greases – all of which are key instigators in sewer blockage. Thus, not only will their use provide renewable energy sources, it will also rid the city of congested pipes, allowing for more efficient operations.

Methods for harvesting the fat waste include scourging sewers for fat waste and collecting the leftover oils and fats from restaurants. Power output will come from the company’s Combined Heat and Intelligent Power plant, a name often condensed to CHiP. The resulting 130 Gigawatt hours (GWh) has the potential to power 40,000 homes. In addition, Thames will purchase 75GWh of the energy generated to power their sewer operations and desalination plant.

Of course there has been much experimentation with waste materials other than solid wastes, as with the search to find energy-generating properties in urine. But despite the news of a urine-powered generator, there have been a few debates on whether any merits of this device actually stem from the implementation of the urine itself.  Going by the arguments of one speculator, it would seem the concept of energy derived by biological excrement of the urethra varies little from hydro-generation. Adhering to the proposed filtering process, it is the hydrogen extracted from the urine that harbors its energy producing properties. The urea being of no apparent value in the context of this particular argument, this theory would imply the urine’s value come from its water content. The speculator going on to infer that splitting this water into hydrogen would require a greater input of energy than is gained.

Returning to the value of urine’s nutrients, however, it should be said that urea, though rendered useless in such criticisms, can function as a fuel additive, and is sometimes used in place of nitrogen as a nutrient in the production of micro-algae bio-fuel.

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