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Poo power to the people

by Helen Pidd

• German town to use cow and horse manure for green energy

• Biogas network could provide 30-40% of town's needs

Cows in Pirbright, England

Cows in Pirbright, England. Photo: Daniel Berehulak/Getty

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 plant can produce 6.8MW, enough to power and heat 26,000 houses. According to Peter Kindt, director of Alfagy Ltd, which distributes CHP plants, the Lünen network could provide 30-40% of the town's heat and electricity needs.

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.

The CHP plants are camouflaged as decorative installations featuring wood and plants.

Kindt admits that because of the smell, anyone near the CHP plant in Lünen will know it's there. But he insists that residents will not find their living rooms scented with slurry every time they turn the heating on. "Unlike wind or solar power, a biogas network is barely noticeable to residents," he said.

This piece originally appeared in The Guardian.

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The plant can produce 6.8MW, enough to power and heat 26,000 houses.


6800000/26000 ~ 260 watts per household. Unless I'm missing something (like extremely efficient German insulation?), you might be better off heating the house by stabling the cows under it, as they used to do.

Posted by: Tony Fisk on 28 May 09

260Wh is enough if you don't have to use the electricity to heat your house or for cooking...

Posted by: JacoV on 29 May 09

JacoV, It claims it's enough to heat the home too.
"6.8MW, enough to power and heat 26,000 houses."

Posted by: Dave on 31 May 09

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