Monday, June 18, 2007

cow powered trains

Two years ago there was a report of a new exciting public transport project in Sweden, powering a train on biogas.

What exactly is biogas? The manufacturers explain

Biogas is formed by the decomposition of micro-bacteria in organic material in an oxygen-free environment, a natural process that occurs in swamps, and marshes, for example. In biogas plants, this takes place under control-led conditions in a digestion chamber.The gases formed in this process, mostly methane and carbon dioxide are collected. For use as an engine fuel, the methane content has to be boosted to around 97%, which is done by removing most of the carbon dioxide.

All good, nice natural process, no net carbon emissions, tralala. Hang on, what's the organic material? (You're way ahead of me here, aren't you?)

A later, more detailed report tells us.

Inside the abattoir at Swedish Meats in Linkoping, the cows stood patiently, occasionally nuzzling the lens of our camera.

From there, it was a short walk past the white-walled butchery, down the steps to the basement where the raw material for biogas, slid greasily down a chute.

Still bubbling and burping, and carpeting you with an acrid stench, came the organs and the fat and the guts. Enough, from one cow, to get you about 4km (2.5 miles) on the train.

In an earlier post I conceded that - as long as the insane intensive farming of cattle continues, and if we ignore all animal welfare concerns - using the waste parts of livestock as biomass has some merit.

But the Swedish biogas is made out of 'organs, fat and guts'. These things are largely edible. They are not the waste products left over from the food industry. This means the biogas manufacturer is growing cows specifically as biomass. That is obscene. Surely the cow's methane contribution to climate change whilst alive way outweighs supplying 4km worth of non-fossil train fuel.

The train runs on the 116km Linkoping-Vastervik line. That's 29 cows per journey. There are equally insane and yet much more sustainable ways to do it.

Wouldn't it be possible for a team of 29 cows to pull the train that distance, giving the train company the advantage of reusing the cows and the cows the advantage of carrying on living?

Or how about giving each potential passenger their own cow to ride the journey, which they can leave at the other end, like a bovine version of Amsterdam's white bicycles?

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