No, it will look nothing like this. Photo via Arkine
The UK relies heavily on natural gas from the soon-to-be-depleted North Sea stores, according to the BBC. With that supply running out, and with generous incentives available for renewable power projects, it appears there's been some major interest in the idea of making up for the lost gas supply with gas derived from--what else?--human feces, of course. In a pilot program this summer, 130 families in the UK will be getting biogas generated from human waste piped directly into their homes instead of natural gas. Yes, it's a little gross-seeming. And no, the gas doesn't smell bad--its odor is more or less identical to natural gas. So get past the inner-juvenile lingering in all of us and take a hard look at the numbers, and you'll see what's a pretty alluring option for meeting much of the gas demand in the UK with a very renewable resource.
The UK creates 1.73 million tons of human waste--all of which could potentially be used to produce biogas. The UK has committed to getting 15% of its energy from renewable sources by 2020. Domestic natural gas reserves are diminishing, and relying on imports from the Middle East and Russia is problematic. So by all means, why not look to the toilet?
Here's how the process works, via the BBC:
There are already plants operating in the UK that harness human waste for electricity, but this is the first project that will allow households to get gas for heating and such needs from human waste. National Grid projects that the UK could meet half its gas needs by implementing the practice:
Anaerobic digesters - carefully managed bacteria - are already used to turn faeces into a means of generating electricity, but the additional plant that British Gas will install will clean up the spare biogas and turn it into biomethane which can be used on household hobs and in gas central heating. The whole process should take about 23 days from flush to finish and since the infrastructure is already in placeThe excess solid waste product will be given to farmers to use as fertilizer. Seems like a pretty good idea all around--talk about adhering to the principle of reuse.