Biogas powering the Olympic torch

China is playing a leading role in the area of ​​biogas, processes by which we can turn our waste, animal waste and food waste into a high-end usable commodity. The issue of using fecal matter as an energy source ranges from taboo in some societies to wide acceptance and use in others. In China, it fits into the latter category. Here’s what China’s National Development and Reform Commission has on the biogas books.

In China alone there are 1.5 billion people with the same number of livestock, poultry and garbage dumps providing methane feedstock daily. It’s hard for China to shake off the idea of ​​turning something that’s been discarded into a commodity for electricity generation. China plans to have installed capacity of bioenergy projects reach 5.5 million kilowatts by 2010, but jump to 30 million kilowatts by 2020, an increase of 600 percent over the next 11 years.

Biogas is a combustible mixture of gases produced by microorganisms when livestock manure and other biological wastes are allowed to ferment in the absence of air in closed containers. The main components of biogas are methane (60 percent), carbon dioxide (35 percent), and small amounts of water vapor, hydrogen sulfide, carbon monoxide, and nitrogen. Biogas is mainly used as fuel, like natural gas, while the digested mixture of liquids and solids ‘bio-sludge’ and ‘bio-sludge’ are mainly used as organic fertilizer for crops. Chinese companies are now finding many other uses for biogas, biosludge and biosludge in China.

This development touches on an important aspect of Peak Oil: in a peak oil world there will be less fertilizer production and therefore higher fertilizer prices, which means higher agricultural costs that have to be passed on as higher prices. of food. It could open Pandora’s box by explaining how dependent on oil the food processing, agriculture and transportation industries are. Higher transportation costs to move food from field to factory to your plate. Fertilizers and pesticides rely on natural gas and petroleum-based chemicals for production, and farm machinery runs on liquid fossil fuels. The simplest equation is: higher crude oil prices = higher food costs.

China began to use biogas digesters in earnest in 1958 in a drive to take advantage of the multiple functions of biogas production, which solved the problem of manure disposal and improved hygiene. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, the Chinese government realized the value of this natural resource in rural areas, and this was the first major step in modernizing its agriculture. Six million digesters were installed in China, which became the biogas capital of the world by incorporating the ‘China Dome’ digester which is still in use to this day, especially for small-scale domestic use. China’s National Rural Biogas Construction Plan 2003-2010 is to increase biogas-using households by another 31 million to a total of 50 million, so the usage rate would reach 20% of total rural households.

By the end of 2006, the total number of families using biogas reached 22 million, with a total annual biogas production of about 8.5 billion cubic meters and had built biogas wells for 22 million households in rural areas and provided more More than 5,200 large and medium-sized biogas projects based on livestock and poultry farms. Typical eight cubic meter biogas wells can provide 80 percent of the energy needed for cooking for a family of four, according to the Ministry of Agriculture’s Division of Energy and Zoology. By 2020, some 300 million rural inhabitants will use biogas as their main fuel.

During the current Tenth Five-Year Plan, China is developing 2,200 grid-power biogas engineering projects for waste from intensive animal and poultry farming, treating more than 60 million tons of manure per year, in addition to 137,000 installed digesters. to treat wastewater. . According to the Chinese Academy of Sciences and Geography, the total annual production of manure and soil at night could theoretically generate about 130 billion cubic meters of methane, equivalent to 93 million tons of coal and 80 percent of the waters. Industrial waste can also be used to produce methane. . The number of large-scale grid-scale plants is projected to rise to 30,000 by 2030, a 15-fold increase.

As the idea of ​​cleaning up the environment begins to take hold in China, treatment of urban and industrial wastewater treatment sludge that has traditionally been dumped into landfills, oceans and waterways is taking center stage with a campaign catchy “Recycle waste into a resource.” “. The Chinese central government is showing great interest in medium- and large-scale biogas plants and agricultural and agro-industrial biomass integrated with waste management plants to reduce water pollution.

To facilitate the use of biogas, the government established biogas technical training courses in Shanxi province and trained 6,000 farmers in 2005, 4,000 of whom obtained the National Professional Biogas Technician Certificate. The Ministry of Agriculture which runs the Chengdu Biogas Scientific Research Institute (BIOMA) also operates an international training and research center in Chengdu, Sichuan province. Farmers in Yunnan province who have graduated from the course are experimenting with a “four-in-one” biogas plant that incorporates a pigsty and domestic latrine to provide feedstock, then uses methane to heat a greenhouse for growing vegetables and raises the carbon dioxide inside the greenhouse to increase the yield of the plants.

Biogas feedstock programs across China are just beginning to use industrial waste from other sources; alcohol production and paper mills. The Tianguan Alcohol Works, which consumes two million tons of wasted grains per year to produce denatured alcohol, is now recycling distiller dregs to produce biogas in a 30,000-cubic-meter digester, which supplies more than 20,000 homes or 20 percent of the city of Nanyang. population.

Hongzhi Alcohol Corporation, located in Mianzhu, Sichuan Province, which is the largest alcohol factory in southwest China, uses its industrial organic wastewater, sewage and dregs to produce biogas. Mianzhu City treats 98 percent of municipal wastewater, including hospital wastewater, through digesters with a total capacity of 10,000 cubic meters.

Chenming Paper Co., which generates 300 tons of sludge a day, is adding its own start-up biogas program using waste pulp. The same is true of factory farming on many large and medium-sized livestock and poultry farms in the suburbs of cities. China’s power generation is beginning to transform into local power generation for local residents from local industry using local raw materials, which is a model we should get used to in a world of high energy prices: production local, local consumption.

As our globalized distant point of manufacturing, long delivery chain lifestyle changes year by year with the dwindling availability of crude oil, known as “Peak Oil”, we as a world will need to find substitutes for crude oil. to supply basic chemicals for manufacturing and industrial processes. Using biogas directly for cooking or to co-generate electricity and heat is especially feasible when the biogas is used at or near the generation site. Methane from biogas can also be used to produce methanol, an organic solvent, and an important chemical to produce formaldehyde, chloromethane, organic glass, and composite fiber. Good quality fertilizers and generated electricity are additional bonuses.

Finally, biogas can be used to prolong the storage of fruits and cereals. An atmosphere of methane and carbon dioxide inhibits metabolism, thus reducing the formation of ethylene in fruits and grains by prolonging storage time, and the same atmosphere kills harmful insects, mold, and disease-causing bacteria.

My mind’s eye sees a future where food storage will be in local communities as the Just-in-Time delivery system will encounter problems as fuel becomes more expensive and disposable income around the world. world shrink. I envision a return to a dry bulk delivery system that will be weekly or bi-weekly and will require local communities to store their own grain and food in bulk using biogas to keep pests and rodents out of the food supply. The tiny shipments we are used to today will need to be retooled into a bulk delivery system, the concept of a box from a company halfway around the world sitting on a store shelf should diminish with higher crude prices. Food from supermarkets and hypermarkets packaged in small individual boxes, bags, or wrapped in plastic will have its own set of issues to overcome for delivery and manufacturing. Which gives biogas an advantage by offering solutions to two possible side effects in the future due to the continued rise in the prices of crude oil, food storage and fertilizers.

What I have never heard of is a backup fertilizer system. We are required by law in many countries to have backup batteries and generators for critical electrical systems in the event of a power outage. Is there a backup fertilizer system for our food production in case of oil shortages or prolonged supply interruptions? Biogas production can provide some protection. It’s barely an Olympic step, but it’s a step.

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