Farmers expand revenue stream with pig poop

What to do with 12,000 tonnes of pig poo? That’s the question farmers James Hart and Jeremy Iles found themselves asking two years ago when contemplating how best to supplement their dwindling incomes.

Thanks to the buying power of the major supermarkets, pig farming is no longer as profitable as it once was, and Mr Hart in particular was looking at ways to make the most of the resources at his disposal.

The solution they came up with was beautifully simple; turn the huge amount of pig faeces generated on the farm – not to mention cow dung and chicken droppings – into hard cash…

Glebe Farm near the sleepy village of Hatherop in Gloucestershire is an unlikely place to stumble across a state-of-the-art, million pound biogas station of which there are just a handful in the UK.

The plant itself is wholly unremarkable to look at, but what goes on inside could help to revolutionise not just this farm, but hundreds of others just like it across the country.

In fact, the technology is proven and, given the government subsidies available, profitable. It’s just that, like with most renewable energies, the UK has been painstakingly slow on the uptake. In Germany, for example, there are thousands of similar plants.

In essence, vast quantities of animal waste are mixed with lots of grass in a cylindrical tower – “basically a 3,000 tonne cow’s stomach,” says Mr Hart.

Bacteria then break down the mixture, producing methane, which is siphoned off, cleaned and filtered.

This gas is then used to power what is effectively a £200,000 Mercedes truck engine, which in turn powers a generator, electricity from which is fed into the National Grid.

A by-product of the process is large quantities of fertiliser that remain in the tower once the bacteria have worked their magic.

The heat generated by the process is also captured and used for central heating at the farm house. It is, then, in renewable-energy speak, an efficient ‘closed-loop’ system.

No doubt the inevitable whine will burp from the blowhole of conservative critics – exclaiming over there being any sort of subsidy for new technology. Conveniently forgetting all the established “old” technology has always managed a government subsidy for the good of the people.

RTFA for lots of interesting detail.

Harvesting energy: using body heat to warm buildings

When I first posted this over at the “big blog” – two years ago – Jernhusen was just getting started on the proposal to heat the train station with body heat. A delight to see the project continues – and brings positive results, savings and consternation to the spookier critics who predicted failure.

Body heat is not an energy source that normally springs to mind when companies want to keep down soaring energy costs. But it did spring to the mind of one Swedish company, which decided the warmth that everybody generates naturally was in fact a resource that was going to waste.

Jernhusen, a real estate company in Stockholm, has found a way to channel the body heat from the hoards of commuters passing through Stockholm’s Central Station to warm another building that is just across the road.

This is old technology being used in a new way. The only difference here is that we’ve shifted energy between two different buildings,” says Klas Johnasson, who is one of the creators of the system and head of Jernhusen’s environmental division…

Heat exchangers in the Central Station’s ventilation system convert the excess body heat into hot water. That is then pumped to the heating system in the nearby building to keep it warm.

Not only is the system environmentally friendly but it also lowers the energy costs of the office block by as much as 25%.

“This is generally good business,” says Mr Johansson. “We save money in energy costs and so the building becomes worth more.

“We are quite surprised that people haven’t done this before. For a large scale project like Kungbrohuset (the office block) this means a lot of money…”

“It means a low-grade waste heat source, like body heat, can be used advantageously. It’s worth them spending a little bit of money on electricity to move heat from building to building, rather than spending a lot on heating with gas.”


Intel and ARM battle to be the core of smartphones

Intel is aiming for a slice of the smartphone market with a new chip with built-in graphics. The move would put it in direct competition with ARM, who design the majority of smartphone chips…

Intel’s new chip – code named Moorestown – would result in smart phone visuals and remove the need for a separate graphics chip in computers…

Although Intel currently sell single units that can cope with both graphics and processing, the sets comprise two separate chips: a CPU and the GPU.

While power usage is not a major issue for desktop PCs, the problem becomes more significant for laptops and is a key issue for smartphones, where any extra power demand will shorten battery life…

“The vast majority of smartphones use ARM chips…”They only design, rather than make the chips and then license them out. For example, the Apple A4 chip used in its iPad and iPhone 4 is ARM’s design,” added Alex Watson from Custom PC magazine…

ARM is not resting on its laurels. The firm has just launched a new chip called the Cortex-A15 MPCore.

This new chip will run with a clock speed of 2.5 GHz, which could result in far faster processing speeds, with a minimal impact on power usage.

Its thought that it could mean iPads and iPhones could be five times faster, with some analysts saying ARM’s new chip is “as significant to the smartphone market as the Pentium was to the desktop market”…

There are almost a million smartphones being sold every day and Intel are not in a single one. If the firm is to remain viable, it needs a slice of that market.”

I’m still surprised the competition appears limited to two design/manufacture teams.

In Asia, there are “local” chips produced for smartphone producers and the market is so large on its own that, so far, there hasn’t been serious pressure for fabs to output chips refined and complex enough for a worldwide market.

So far.

Cow poop power expands to more Dutch homes

A second plant that converts cow dung into energy for homes opened in the Netherlands.

Manure from cows at a nearby dairy farm will be fermented along with grass and food industry residues, and the biogas released during the process will be used as fuel for the thermal plant’s gas turbines.

The heat generated will be distributed to around 1,100 homes in the area around Leeuwarden in the north of the Netherlands, the plant’s operator Essent said in a statement.

Firms in Europe and elsewhere have been investing in biogas plants and this is the second of its scale running on cow manure in the Netherlands. It follows another plant that Essent opened in January.

Why is this restricted to cow poop? Seems to me any kind of poop could be used – along with the scraps and garbage our civilization manages to produce.

Biogas is biogas. The electricity and excess calories of heat produced won’t know the difference if it’s cow or human sourced.

Think of what we could get from a regular session of Congress.

China prepares to close coal-fired power plants in Beijing

London 1952

China is considering moving the last four coal-fired power and heating plants out of Beijing’s municipal area, replacing them with gas-fired stations…in an effort to improve air quality in the capital…

“While the heat supply to Beijing residents must be ensured, coal-fired stations that need to be relocated must be relocated, and building gas-fired plants with advanced environmental protection technologies is a first choice…”

The four plants, owned by Huaneng Power International, Datang International Power Generation Co Ltd, China Shenhua Energy and Beijing Jingneng Thermal Power Co Ltd, have a total power generating capacity of about 2.7 gigawatts.

The plan, if it is implemented, would further drive up gas demand in Beijing, which already tops demand rankings among Chinese cities. Beijing consumed more than 5 billion cubic meters of gas in 2008…

As a result, construction of gas pipelines, liquefied natural gas facilities and underground storage tanks need to be accelerated, Huang Wei, Vice Mayor, said.

That might take care of half the coal-related smog problem in Beijing. Getting natural gas in sufficient quantity to the city might finally permit the changeover that solved the rest of the same problem for London back in the day, e.g., converting home cooking and heating fires from coal to gas and electricity.

This also is an admission that – regardless of all the talk from coal-dependent countries, whether it be the US or Poland, China or Australia – either current research into cleaning up coal ain’t producing squat or it isn’t producing good enough results quickly enough. So, China is going in the direction of a fuel where the world’s largest reserve is in Iran.

We’re not even prepared to listen to T. Boone Pickens.

Poo Power to the people

The gasworks is at the other end!

A German town will become the first in the world to be powered by animal waste when it launches a biogas network this year.

Lünen, north of Dortmund, will use cow and horse manure as well as other organic material from local farms to provide cheap and sustainable electricity for its 90,000 residents.

Biogas is already used around the world – it will power buses in Oslo from September – but Lünen claims to be the only town to build a dedicated biogas network.

Material such as animal slurry and spoiled crops from local farms will be fed into heated tanks, where natural fermentation will break it down into methane and carbon dioxide – the same basic ingredients as natural gas. This biogas can then be burned to generate electricity and heat in a combined heat and power plant (CHP) before the heat is distributed across the town through a new biogas pipeline, which is being built underground…

The benefits of biogas are clear, say its developers. “This sustainable technology allows local production of local power, reducing reliance on fossil fuels and fuel imports,” said Kindt.

Using everything to completion instead of burying “waste” is what most human beings used to do. Between conspicuous consumption, planned obsolescence, fast food and diminishing education standards – we managed to give up on most lifetsyles based upon efficiency and good sense.

We have too many politicians who never had to live day-to-day through a war or recession. They sit around and pontificate from their country clubs and talk shows. The rest of us are out here surviving on what we earn.

Coming Attraction: The cement that eats carbon dioxide

Cement, a vast source of planet-warming carbon dioxide, could be transformed into a means of stripping the greenhouse gas from the atmosphere, thanks to an innovation from British engineers.

The new environmentally formulation means the cement industry could change from being a “significant emitter to a significant absorber of CO2,” says Nikolaos Vlasopoulos, chief scientist at London-based Novacem, whose invention has garnered support and funding from industry and environmentalists.

The new cement, which uses a different raw material, certainly has a vast potential market. Making the 2bn tonnes of cement used globally every year pumps out 5% of the world’s CO2 emissions – more than the entire aviation industry. And the long-term trends are upwards: a recent report by the French bank Credit Agricole estimated that, by 2020, demand for cement will increase by 50% compared to today.

Making traditional cement results in greenhouse gas emissions from two sources: it requires intense heat, and so a lot of energy to heat up the ovens that cook the raw material, such as limestone. That then releases further CO2 as it burns. But, until now, no one has found a large-scale way to tackle this fundamental problem.

Novacem’s cement, based on magnesium silicates, not only requires much less heating, it also absorbs large amounts of CO2 as it hardens, making it carbon negative.

Magnesium silicates are readily available – already used in specialty wallboard. Though it will take some time for pilot operations to demonstrate real-time cost-benefit ratios, it certainly sounds like a dramatic breakthrough.

As for time to develop and spread round the world? Damned near every major advance in building codes since World War Two has been initiated in Europe and the U.K.. If it works as well as it may, we’ll probably catch up in the U.S. – a decade later.

Check out Mother Nature’s plan to kill Americans

Heat is more likely to kill an American than an earthquake, and thunderstorms kill more than hurricanes do, according to a “death map” just published.

Researchers who compiled the county-by-county look at what natural disasters kill Americans said they hope their study will help emergency preparedness officials plan better.

Heat and drought caused 19.6 percent of total deaths from natural hazards, with summer thunderstorms causing 18.8 percent and winter weather causing 18.1 percent, the team at the University of South Carolina found.

Earthquakes, wildfires and hurricanes combined were responsible for fewer than 5 percent of all hazard deaths.

Writing in BioMed Central’s International Journal of Health Geographics, they said they hoped to dispel some myths about what the biggest threats to life and limb are.

“According to our results, the answer is heat,” said Susan Cutter and Kevin Borden in their report, which gathered data from 1970 to 2004.

Cutter and Borden said there is no national database on deaths from Mother Nature and this was a first try at getting one together.