Swedish city weans itself offof fossil fuels using biomass

Stories like this provide inspiration for those of us who see a future without reliance on fossil fuels, particularly oil from the Middle East or Russia.

When this city vowed a decade ago to wean itself from fossil fuels, it was a lofty aspiration, like zero deaths from traffic accidents or the elimination of childhood obesity.

But Kristianstad has already crossed a crucial threshold: the city and surrounding county, with a population of 80,000, essentially use no oil, natural gas or coal to heat homes and businesses, even during the long frigid winters. It is a complete reversal from 20 years ago, when all of their heat came from fossil fuels.

But this area in southern Sweden, best known as the home of Absolut vodka, has not generally substituted solar panels or wind turbines for the traditional fuels it has forsaken. Instead, as befits a region that is an epicenter of farming and food processing, it generates energy from a motley assortment of ingredients like potato peels, manure, used cooking oil, stale cookies and pig intestines.

A hulking 10-year-old plant on the outskirts of Kristianstad uses a biological process to transform the detritus into biogas, a form of methane. That gas is burned to create heat and electricity, or is refined as a fuel for cars.

Once the city fathers got into the habit of harnessing power locally, they saw fuel everywhere: Kristianstad also burns gas emanating from an old landfill and sewage ponds, as well as wood waste from flooring factories and tree prunings.

Over the last five years, many European countries have increased their reliance on renewable energy, from wind farms to hydroelectric dams, because fossil fuels are expensive on the Continent and their overuse is, effectively, taxed by the European Union’s emissions trading system.

But for many agricultural regions, a crucial component of the renewable energy mix has become gas extracted from biomass like farm and food waste. In Germany alone, about 5,000 biogas systems generate power, in many cases on individual farms.

This is one of many ways we could be taking advantage of recycling all of the waste we have in this country.

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