December 2010, Week 2


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Sun, 12 Dec 2010 22:37:19 -0500
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Using Waste, Swedish City Cuts Its Fossil Fuel Use
New York Times
December 10, 2010

KRISTIANSTAD, Sweden - 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

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.

Kristianstad has gone further, harnessing biogas for an
across-the-board regional energy makeover that has
halved its fossil fuel use and reduced the city's carbon
dioxide emissions by one-quarter in the last decade.

"It's a much more secure energy supply - we didn't want
to buy oil anymore from the Middle East or Norway," said
Lennart Erfors, the engineer who is overseeing the
transition in this colorful city of 18th-century row
houses. "And it has created jobs in the energy sector."

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