Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Human Waste Powers British Homes

By Sunil Patel

People in one part of the United Kingdom have been cooking and heating their homes using renewable gas extracted from human waste – for the very first time.

Up to 200 Oxfordshire homes were yesterday being powered by renewable Biomethane gas from nearby Didcot sewage works.

The £2.5 million project is a joint venture between Thames Water, British Gas and Scotia Gas Networks.  

The conversion process takes 20 days, from flushing the toilet to being ready to use the green gas piped into households.

Firstly the raw sewage arrives at Didcot from some of Thames Water's 14 million customers, this is treated at the sewage works and then recycled back into the environment. 

Martin Baggs, Chief Executive of Thames Water said: "We already produce £15m a year of electricity by burning biogas from the 2.8bn litres a day of sewage produced by our 14m customers. 

“Feeding this renewable gas directly into the gas grid is the logical next step in our ‘energy from waste' business.”

The sludge, the solid part is further treated in warmed-up vats in a process called anaerobic digestion, where the bacteria break down the biodegradable material to produce a green biogas.

Finally, the impurities are removed from the biomethane before the renewable gas is fed into the grid.

Mr Baggs added, "What we have jointly achieved at Didcot is a sign of what is to come, this can be replicated across our network and indeed the whole country; every sewage works in Britain is a potential source of local renewable gas waiting to be put to use."

Mr Baggs was speaking at a breakfast barbeque at Didcot sewage works to celebrate today's historic achievement.

Bacon butties were served to invited guests after being cooked on a grill powered by the biomethane that is now being fed into the gas grid.

The government hopes Didcot will be a blueprint for many similar projects and it is hoped that renewable gas projects could help to decarbonise the UK gas network through the delivery of renewable heat to households.

Energy and Climate Change Secretary Chris Huhne said: "It's not every day that a Secretary of State can announce for the first time ever in the UK  people can cook and heat their homes with gas generated from sewage.

"This is a historic day for the companies involved, for energy from waste technologies, and for progress to increase the amount of renewable energy in the UK," Mr Huhne added.

Biomethane gas could account for at least 15 per cent of the domestic gas market by 2020, according to a study by the National Grid.

Photograph from Thames Water.

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