A new study concludes that half of all households in the U.K. could be heated by biogas, as generated from waste food or sewage. The gas itself is methane, and would be piped to the national (gas) grid in sufficiency to provide 15% of all energy from renewable sources by 2020. In the longer run, it is concluded by Ernst and Young, such biogas could provide up to half of Britain's domestic gas heating... yes, things begin to get a bit nebulous in these quotations. I believe that 40% of Britain's total energy is provided by natural gas (for heating and electricity generation), about another 35% for transport, mostly cars, and roughly 40% of the total amount of energy goes for space-heating, so that might equal 20% of the grand total?
In any case it is a good portent. We do need to focus on renewable sources, but the engineering involved will be massive. As I have alluded before, the jury is still out regarding anthropogenic climate change, but either way, fossil fuels are in limited supply and so the same action - of using less of them - satisfies both agenda.
Sir Richard Budge ("King Coal" as he is dubbed deservedly) is a man to be admired. He has opened a formerly closed (Thanks Maggie!) coal mine in Yorkshire - a scene of dispute of the worst industrial strife in British history; ignoring the Tonypandy riots in South Wales - and adjacently, has planned to implement a combined-cycle power station, which generally gets 56% of the thermal energy recovered rather than the 36% that is dictated by the thermodynamic Carnot Cycle limits, and is also "clean". This, at any rate is his intention.
His company, Powerfuel, has requested planning-permission to build a 900 MW plant, with low-emissions, i.e. "clean-coal", fuelled from the Hatfield colliery, which he unsealed in 2009, funded by Russian investors. I use the world "unsealed" deliberately because Margaret (Maggie) Thatcher's government inaugurated the sealing of the mines with concrete as a demonstration of force against the trade unions who, although I am a socialist, were asking for trouble... sadly it is the population of this country in general that paid the price for both the union militants and Thatcher's unabating worship of monetarism - a kind of academically discredited economic policy that has brought the world to the pivot of bankruptcy.
As I note, it is a combined cycle (IGCC) - that's Integrated, Gasification, Combined Cycle - plant, which first gasifies the coal dust and converts it to synthesis gas (a mixture of H2 and CO) which is burned at high efficiency. The consequent CO2 is separated out and can then be "sequestered" in some way - possibly it could be fed to algae and the resulting yield used in a thermal gasification process to provide more "syngas".
However, not that it matters much, as I have already made the point, Dr John Theon, who was apparently James Hansen's boss - the main climate change/anthropogenic CO2/global warming protagonist - has come clean that he isn't convinced that this theory is right. I keep an open mind on this - I am not a specialist in atmospheric chemistry, but I am a well qualified physical scientist and I can understand many original papers when I read them and do the sums - but Theon alleges that data has been "cherry picked" to fit the whole picture, and that the "models" which is all they are, a mathematical "fit" inside a computer may give particular results according to a given algorithm; i.e. other models will give different predictions. Theon says, "They have resisted making their work transparent so that it can be replicated independently by other scientists. This is clearly contrary to how science should be done. Thus there is no rational justification for using climate model forecasts to determine public policy."
Now, the latter is an extremely significant point. We are projected to invest billions of whatever currency prevails in carbon capture and sequestration, and yet it is not absolutely clear whether letting that element in the form of its most highly oxidised state - CO2 - into the atmosphere will fry the planet or not. But, burning less carbon in the form of fossil fuels is paramount, because we are going to run out of cheap and readily availabile amounts of them sooner not later. Either line of argument (resource considerations or global warming) takes us to the same conclusion.