Humans have a growing thirst for technology. With the boom in connected devices, and an increasing accessibility of owning these devices, our limited energy sources are becoming strained. It is the focus of governments and policy makers worldwide to enhance our usage of renewable energy sources, as well as to develop the technology in this sector to grow their applications. A shift to renewables will help take the burden of supplying more energy, and it will help to reduce our carbon footprint.
One innovative renewable energy source is biogas. Recent advancements in biogas technology is making it possible for people to turn their own food waste into a reliable energy source.
Biogas is formed from the cocktail of gases that are produced as a byproduct of organic matter breakdown. It can be produced from a range of biological materials including agricultural waste, manure, plant waste, food waste or green waste.
Humans are producing waste at an alarming volume and rate, and a major source of waste is from throwing out food. In fact, almost a third of the food that we produce for human consumption is wasted each year, equalling around 1.3 billion tonnes. To further put this into perspective, the food wasted by consumers of rich countries is equivalent to the entire net food production of sub-Saharan Africa.
Given the huge amount of food waste we are generating each year, scientists have been inspired to develop a system that converts this waste into something useful. Systems have been created that have the capacity to generate a reliable energy source from our food waste. Instead of being thrown away, unwanted food is collected and as it decomposes the gases it produces are extracted as a power source (in the form of a biogas).
Fruits and vegetables have some of the highest wastage rates of any food, and currently, most of us simply throw them out when they’re no longer fit for comsumption. In the future we may be able to make the small change of throwing this wastage into a different receptacle, and result in generating energy to power our homes and even our neighbourhood.
There are already products on the market which are able to convert waste into energy, the Flexibuster extracts maximum energy from waste stream in the form of biogas. The biogas then fuels a CHP engine converting the energy into electricity and heat. It is envisioned that in the future entire communities may be able to power themselves through similar systems.
The benefits are that the energy source is completely renewable, and it provides a solution to increasing waste and rising energy demand. It also has the advantage over other renewable energy sources of being able to provide a constant energy source, assuming that enough waste has been added to the system. Intermittent power is something that solar and wind energies are currently trying to overcome.
It’s not just food waste, human waste too is being converted into energy. Hydrothermal liquefaction is the process of converting human waste into energy through a similar process of extracting the gases that are emitted from this kind of waste. The process mimics the conditions we see underground that help create deep oil reserves. The waste is exposed to extremely high temperatures and pressures which recreates a process that takes millions of years in a fraction of the time.
In the more distant future we are expecting to see people living in huge megacities. Innovators in the biofuel space are looking to develop decentralised energy systems, which will allow the citizens to generate their own power supply for both their homes, and their neighbours homes, in a manner which will also manage the city’s waste.