Assignment 1

11, نوفمبر 2010

Part I

Energy is virtually an infinite resource in the universe, as long as there is knowledge on how to harness it from a source for a purpose useful to someone who needs it. Out of the many sources of energy, the most popular are from the wind, sun, water, electricity, and different types of gases. A price-efficiency chart would show that wind power is not practical, though new innovations are helping with that. Electricity can get costly, solar power from the sun is only useful at certain times of the day, which is very constricting for users, and water is a finite resource that is used in too many applications to be a primary source of energy, especially when one factors in the consequences of disturbing the natural order of things. This leaves gas as the best source of energy because despite the fragile nature of its storage, it is a fairly renewable resource.
Since all types of gas are flammable and heavy enough to interact with the visible physical world, if harnessed properly, there are many different ways in which one could be used to produce a result desired by any giver person or group of persons. Methane gas is no exception. And since it is a byproduct of flatulence and can be extracted from waste, especially that of animals, and any living creatures with a rumen for that matter, there is and always will be a readily available source of it. This is because people have to eat to survive, and in eating there will come a point where the body rids itself of that digested food as waste, which can in turn be converted to methane gas.
Methane gas does not only come from waste. Other sources of it can be seen in FIGURE 1. Out of all of these sources, though, increasing production from enteric fermentation, which currently 1/5 of methane gas comes from anyway, can have spectacular benefits, especially if it starts to replace other methods harmful to the environment. Looking at the pie chart, there are some sources of methane gas that will happen naturally, whether there is human intervention or not. But gas drilling, for example, is not necessary. It is only being done to extract methane, and in doing so, the environment is harmed and the fragile state that the gas rests in as it is being drilled is very dangerous for those doing the drilling. Not to mention the rather expensive costs of affording for tools to do the drilling. Decreasing the percentage of coal mining for methane is a no brainer. Every couple of months there is word of a cave in leaving miners trapped, so the liabilities of this method are already known. Though, if the mining is for another reason, and the methane gas is just collected since it is there, I guess this method proves to be more of an efficient move for the mining companies rather than an energy hungry decision by them, while having no interest in their workers safety. So this is debatable. Landfills are used to collect methane because of the improper disposal of waste. If more of the world took a page from most public dog parks, and had a waste management facility to clean up and dispose of waste, there would be a centralized location to collect waste for methane extraction and also landfills would be a lot safer, decreasing harmful runoff in drinking water for humans down the line. Biomass burning is also an unnecessary method of acquiring methane gas, but as with coal mining, the reasons for doing so are not based on acquiring methane, so since there is nothing that can be done about it, getting the most out of the situation is the lesser of the two evils. But if we consider a perfect world in which something could be done about these methods of acquiring methane due to processes with ulterior motives, that is 42% more methane that could be gathered from animal waste, provided proper waste management and conversion facilities are attained. This means that 100% of methane would be produced naturally, 61% of which coming from waste created by animals that only have to do what it takes for them to survive to create.
Aside from helping the environment in a global warming/climate type of way, this also helps the animals for which many organizations have been created to protect due to their unacceptable treatment. Instead of now feeding animals to take the milk, use their bodies for food, their bones for soap, their hooves for glue, and their skin for fashion, more animals will be granted a longer life span in order to use and sell their waste to create methane gas for energy. With the animals staying around longer, and also reproducing, this opens the possibility for more food since there will be more animals, better treatment for them because they are of greater value, and more work for the people since there will be more animals to manage. So the environment, the animals, and the people are happy. Who else is there to please? Also, with an abundance of animals in the world, and the relatively low cost of maintaining and caring for them, using animal waste as a source for methane gas can lower the price of purchasing the gas, by consumers. So on top of having safer drinking water, a healthier world, a greater abundance of fat and happy animals, there will now be lower costs on heating and gas bills.
There is always that one question as to whether people would like to use methane gas instead of their current source of energy. But I feel that if the past is any indicator with the introduction of the going green effort, hybrid cars, windmills, solar panels, and CFL light bulbs, people will slowly but surely ease into the idea, especially if it helps the environment. And supply and demand runs this world, so the more people on board, the greater the demand for this product, and the less of a demand for its alternatives. Also, there is a question of whether people would be ok with things such as their food, being cooked with methane gas that is a byproduct of waste. To that there is also the counter argument of what is actually being cooked. Suggest to a person to eat another human being and they will be repulsed, but that is essentially the same as eating an animal. Though of a different species, the concept is the same. And some of the most famous foods such as the hot dog or SPAM come from an origin that everyone Is aware of, uneasy about, but still is not major enough to phase them from enjoying one or the other. So why not have the same attitude about the source of the energy used to cook the food. Other than that there is a hardly noticeable difference, if there is one at all when it comes to applications such as heating when compared to using electricity or propane. Other issues regarding methane are its fragile state, in that it is a compressed flammable gas, but then again, so is propane, but that doesn’t stop people from using it. So all of the negatives of methane are the same as with any other gas, and since other gases are on the market and widely used for the time being, these cons seem to be insignificant when considering methane as an appropriate alternative for energy.
With all of this information, the only question that remains is how the process of extracting methane gas from animal waste occurs. This is made possible through anaerobic digestion. Biodegradable waste is funneled into oxygen-less storage tanks where bacteria breaks it down to form biogas, which is compressed and cleansed. Then this gas is sent to a CHP plant to be used in various applications. CHP stands for combined heating and power. The plant is essentially your electric company and your gas company combined and merged into one building. As a result of this anaerobic digestion, compost is created from the waste. This can in turn be used to fertilize the crops, which produce the food that the animals eat to make the waste in the first place. Talk about your vertical integration!

A Case Study (more can be found at

Agway Farm in Tully, NY

farm type: dairy, with a herd size of 500

operational date: 1981, still operational

digester type: concrete slurry tank

end use of biogas: electricity with thermal reclaim used for digester and 2 buildings

biogas production: 12,000 ft3/d, 65% methane content

electricity production: 145,000 to 150,000 kWh

electricity savings: $17,000 to $18,000

thermal savings: $5,600 to $5,800

cost: $175,000

Pie Chart (Figure 1):
Enteric Fermentation:
CHP Plant:
Biogas video:!

Part II

The utilization of biogas in the production of electricity is a sustainable, efficient means of generating energy for human consumption. As the table below indicates, cattle manure harvested from beef and dairy farms is a viable source for biogases.

One of the many benefits of using cattle manure is its relative abundance on a global scale. Many countries, particularly in North America, South America, and Asia all have thriving beef and dairy markets that produce hundreds of thousands of tons of manure every year. Although much of the waste is used in fertilization of crops (which are often used to feed cattle), a large portion is simply heaped up for decomposition and is essentially wasted.

In China, many cattle farms use small-scale biogas generators to sell back generated electricity into their local grids.  The implementation of such grids ubiquitously in American farms could result in a substantial energy savings per consumer.

Implementing larger scale biogas converters in landfills and high yield cattle farms could theoretically reduce or even eliminate the current dependence on fossil fuels as natural gas for powering vehicles, machinery, and domestic energy use.

However, two major negotiations should be considered:

1)   The fluctuation of beef / dairy demand

2)   The “hidden” costs of implementing biogas reclamation systems

Beef and dairy production varies depending on many economic factors. If consumers are financially inclined to look for alternatives to cattle products due to the economic climate, producers will reduce their amount of production. This is a simple supply-demand relationship with far reaching consequences should countries turn to cattle for biogas driven electricity generators. A baseline, or average minimum should be established from which projections can be made which asses how much production can be relatively certain for a given year.

Biogas repurposing systems are generally highly efficient and can use virtually any kind of organic waste as fuel, but they are not free. Initial investment in a significant number of machines must maintain a stable balance between initial input and long-term output. Government sponsorship and / or incentives must be justified by greater or at least equal returns, and in order to assess feasible options, careful consideration and evaluation must be used. Should the government offer incentives or support? Who qualifies? How much aid should be given?

According to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s 1998 casebook on methane recovery,  surveyed farmers who have implemented and continue to operate methane recovery systems are generally satisfied with their investment decisions.  Returns provided from electricity and co-product sales, although limited, are preferred to the cost of conventional disposal that provides zero return on investment.

Harvesting Biogas For Power

pet owner and pet
pet and pet food
pet waste and pet owner
taking the time to recycle pet waste can save time sorting it from other waste when it is later disposed of
recyclers and pet waste
pet waste and machine used to convert it to methane
pet waste and waste deposit centers

environmental design
energy design
community improvement design
waste management design
water filtration design

notes and rationale:
helps dispose of waste
cleans the water system
most public pet areas already have disposal units, it would just be collected by other people
more methane means cheaper gas prices (for things that use methane, that is)
pets can be a tax write off for companies that rely on methane
more stray animals and those in pounds will be kept alive and fed for their feces (precents unnecessary harm of animals while providing them with food)

location of origin:
San Francisco

similar ideas:
the same idea has already been established in several European countries

Pets in America produce tons of waste a year that is in turn inefficiently disposed of, causing clutter and landfills, and in many cases mixing with water sources near the landfills, tainting water used by humans for personal use. In many public parks, there are already pet waste facilities that can/are to be used to dispose of the waste. Since it is already being collected, why not place all of that waste in a facility that can convert that waste into methane gas. It takes nothing more than a conversion facility since the collection and creating waste aspects of this process are already established. Having more methane gas increases its availability for whatever use it would be needed for, making it possible to decrease the cost of methane from what it already is. This means cheaper heating bills among other things.

Vac from the Sea (Not just for mermaids)

“In June of this year the company Electrolux introduced a concept for a vacuum cleaner made of plastic debris collected from marine environments. This initiative, titled the Vac from the Sea, is intended to not only produce a line of eco-friendly vacuums but more importantly to draw attention to the problem of plastic pollution in the world’s oceans. The company is working with environmental organizations and concerned volunteers to collect plastic debris from five key marine areas, such as Hawaii, the North Sea, and the Mediterranean. This initiative highlights the issue of plastic pollution and calls for more research and effort towards the use of recycled marine-based plastics. Vac from the Sea will bring together concerned individuals, organizations, and companies with the common aim of ridding the world’s oceans of plastic pollution and putting it to good use.”

Notes & Rationale
– environmental activism
– draws attention to issue
– brings groups of people together toward common goal
– design for an issue instead of use

Taxonomic Categories
– eco-friendly design
– interventionist design
– collaborative design

– land-based recycled plastics vs. marine-based recycled plastics
– purely functional need for a vacuum vs. environmental activism
– business oriented production vs. volunteer oriented production