Comment 41041

By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted May 21, 2010 at 12:44:37

I'm awed at how much some people on here know about incinerators and sewage sludge. Good on ya.

What Liberty is proposing (with their sickeningly slick PR campaign) has some merit. This is the 21st century, not the stone age. Through techniques like gassification we can "burn" things much more cleanly and efficiently than any traditional incinerator. There are very simple models (which can be built with very simple materials, and burn woodgas (what's given off when you make charcoal) with charcoal from earlier cycles. And there are microwave plasma gassifiers which can reduce virtually anything to component elements. There are even relatively simple Instructables for converting your car to woodgas. On some scale, this technology would make a very pleasant alternative to fossil fuels.

However, like all biofuels, it has one problem. It puts carbon back into the atmosphere. If we want to actually beat Climate Change, we need to be sequestering carbon, not just cycling it back into the atmosphere. Taking the vast amount of carbon which is sequestered for us (even if our economic system classifies it as waste) and burning it is a vast step backward. Our soils, especially agricultural ones, are literally dying out because the amount of organic and inorganic carbon in them is being exhausted, not to mention the nitrogen and other crucial elements which could be provided by manure. Restoring a healthy level of carbon in soils has the potential for cutting somewhere near 100ppm of CO2 out of the atmosphere, globally, not to mention what it would do for sustainable food production. And that's one of only thousands of uses for sequestered carbon, from the desk I'm writing this on to the paper on which it will eventually be printed. There are much more valuable uses for these materials than simply burning them.

Sewage sludge, though, does need to stop being spread on farmland immediately. The whole system is faulty, operating on a scale which it is nowhere near capable of handling effectively. Combining sewage inflows (storm sewers, human wastes etc) only makes it many times more difficult to clean the eventual outflow. If a composting toilet that feeds a biogas stove for around $10 in bricks, there is no reason we should still be using essentially Roman-era technology in the 21st century. Neighbourhood-scale systems using greenhouses and advanced bioremediation (reed-beds, fish and algae) could provide productive, clean and beautiful sewage treatment facilities which produce clean water and fertilizer locally.

What the average person puts out, daily, down the toilet, plus their food scraps, and a decent chunk of carbon-bearing yard waste, would be more than sufficient to grow all the food we need, nitrogen-wise. Even our urine is steeped in the stuff (and should be diluted seven or ten to one for use as fertilizer). Wouldn't this be a nice alternative to farmers going broke trying to buy NPK mix?

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