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Biomass, is it as "bio" as declared by "energy recuperators"?

Biomass, is it as


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By Luis E. Sabini Fernández

Those who have faced such a "solution" to the problem of garbage are radiant because it solves two issues at once, burning issues of modern societies: energy shortages and excess waste.

Strictly speaking, this "solution" with which we are overwhelmed today is nothing more than a variation on the "modest proposal" that Jonathan Swift made to Irish society to solve problems that then, in the seventeenth century, afflicted it. As is well known, through the meat of babies, Swift proposed to simplify the peremptory needs of the indigent who, he explained, were legion in impoverished Ireland and at the same time satisfy the palate of the few rich: with tender, "nutritious and healthy" meat, "Both cooked and browned, roasted, boiled, fricassee or stew."

In the case of our energy rescuers, what is offered to the market is almost undifferentiated waste (with a prior removal? In the case of the more tedious projects? Of cardboard, paper, glass, some metals), so that “our palate ”Accept rotting food, remains of domestic breakages, undifferentiated plastics, branches, old diaries, scissors, cutlery or broken tools, remains of all tubes and glue containers, toothpastes, expired or parched groceries, broken toys, worn weatherstripping, clothing clothing out of use, old boxes, broken or obsolete electrical or electronic devices, batteries, car, home or garden accessories, keys, ashtrays, pen holders and the whole string of gadgets that one places in the “garbage bag "...

This mess receives a sanctifying name: bio, life, has an enormous semantic load, and is very positive. "Bio-mass" is the most suitable baptism to "sell" or place something on the market of ideas and representations.

Biomass or necromass?

To better decipher the matter, it is worth tracing. Biomass refers to solids of biological origin.

And it is the name traditionally used by sawdust, for example, and discards from the wood industry, and bagasse from sugar cane and grape pomace to mention just a few examples of biomass. It is the name that has also had the manure and the discarded foliage of the agricultural activity itself; plants or leaves that are not intended for consumption, for example, or roots in the case of plants from which only what is above the ground is consumed.

Such organic remains have a high energy value. For example, in Sweden, many small towns that have logging activity in their midst, usually provide all the energy they use through the combustion of biomass (and Sweden is a country that has a high energy consumption because the climate does not help it to live of the sun).

Organic farmers often achieve their total energy autonomy (light, electricity and hot water) through a biodigester that provides them with enough methane, released from the organic remains from their activity. Not just energy. The compost that remains from that anaerobic combustion makes an excellent pesticide-free compost. If they can also enrich it with manure protein, even better.

But what we have now "on the environmental agenda" is something else. It's that mess just hinted at a little earlier. Putting that "mess" on fire ensures ungovernable air pollution, even though it assures us that the filters of all imaginable chimneys will block such leaks. But not only on air. To the water too.

Juan Luis Berterreche, in his excellent "Incinerating the future" [1], reminds us that combustion itself has a worrying feature: in its process, new substances are formed, different from those of the combusted elements, and generally even more toxic: dioxins and furans, for example. And he warns us: “All these substances are not easily detectable and controllable since several of them move in the field of nanoparticles. Its dimensions are less than one micron (thousandth of a millimeter). "

As incineration is a method of "disposal" of waste that has been used since time immemorial? Let us remember that the US has ordered with total impunity and for decades the burning at sea of ​​waste from the chemical industry and others considered highly toxic , throwing the resulting ashes "into the sea"? In times when substances could not even be measured in microns, we can now verify that those burns of industrial products have been polluting the atmosphere and consequently poisoning us all (although to a different extent, counting the different environments).

I have in my retina the landscape around an energy recovery plant in northern Germany, near Bremerhaven, in 1984: due to its atmosphere, with deep reddish tones, [2] the air totally impregnated with particles surrounding the plant as if it were a A dark-air hood is the closest thing I remember to the implosion of the Warnes buildings in Buenos Aires.

Such plants were and surely are, with insight, in completely unpopulated areas, both “the policy” of burning in the high seas the polluting products that the US “administration” has practiced (is it still practiced?) the combustion with energy recovery that we met in Germany reveals that the resulting contamination has never been taken into account. The externalization of costs has been the real policy of technocratic capitalism.

The disappearance of MSW (urban solid waste) has been the policy of the really existing system, doomed to failure, necessarily, only that failure generates victims among which its managers try to avoid being.

What has failed then has been "just" the concept of outsourcing. Since the bottom of the sea ocean, the terrestrial atmosphere, are intimately necessary to us, they are almost as much part of our habitat as our bedrooms and home kitchens ...

As Josep Marti Valls says, “incineration transforms waste into gases, suspended particles, polluted water, ash and slag; these resulting products are more toxic than the original waste, that is, incineration does not "eliminate" the waste but rather concentrates it. " [3]

Incinerators, safe or polluting?

Supporters of the "energy recovery of waste" insist that technological developments nowadays make it possible to release little less than pure air into the atmosphere, since filters and very high temperature combustion would guarantee the retention of all toxic substances imaginable. But between the affirmation of the supporters of incineration with all the “technological advances” (retention of particles, controlled precipitation of toxic gases before their release abroad, vitrification of the remains to cancel their contaminating capacity, etc.) and those of those who They criticize incineration for its polluting capacity, there is the reality. And the reality is that incinerators in action "create" a very, very unhealthy environment. Here, in Argentina, among many others, we have had the experience of Marcos Paz's incinerator. That it is not from RSU but from something even worse, remains of paintings. But even so, it was approved with all the technological precautions (of course, during the menemato, which is to say, from the point of view of environmental health, that no action was taken; remember that a character like MJ Alsogaray imported waste from the First World and based its safety on the "affidavits" of the "exporters" ...). Due to the zealous care that the "authorities" tend to take to avoid any epidemiological study, there are no health data on Marcos Paz after the incinerator is put into operation. But the neighbors have a "feeling": "we are convinced that deaths from cancer in Marcos Paz far exceed normals and that some type of epidemiological survey could give impressive results" [4]

It is enough to see a detail of emissions from plants of this type to warn that the substances "released" into the air by the chimneys are anything but reassuring. The recent report presented by Greenpeace on the ten plants of this type operating in Spain (Sogama, Meruelo, Zabalgasti, Tirmadrid, Remesa, Tirme and the four nearby Catalonians; Sirusa, Tersa, TRM and Trargisa) reveals that they emit during the period 1975-2007 (in 1975 the first of these plants in operation is counted), in addition to the inevitable carbon dioxide and water vapor, a series of gases or metallic particles that constitute a whole “symphony” of various contaminations: sulfurous acid, nitrogen oxides, cobalt, cadmium, lead, chromium, nickel, mercury, dioxins and other quantity of polluting particles (generically designated as PM25).

With which, once again we verify that the prophecies of perfect solutions hide or rather reveal painful errors or crude estimates that always err on the side of optimism.

The report on MSW incineration carried out by GP in Spain indicates that although volumetrically the decrease is strong (since the volume of ash and slag is estimated to be around 10% of the original volume of “garbage” thus treated, from the point of In view of its weight, the loss is not so great, since it is estimated that after the combustion process about a third of the original weight remains. In 2012, the source indicates that 23,500 tons of toxic ash and slag had to be used. several. [5] We return to what the garbage collector Valls said: garbage does not disappear, it only concentrates. In short, of every three original tons of waste, after all a problematic processing due to its toxicity, we still have to figure out what to do with the remaining ton. The problem does not seem very well resolved (except, of course, for entrepreneurs in the incineration sector ...)

There is another aspect, however, that our aforementioned Berterreche points out, which we could consider even more serious, and which is of an absolutely political nature. In other words, it concerns the area of ​​human decisions. Any bet on incineration is against the plans for reducing waste, recycling, reuse and recovery of waste.

Because all these "policies" take away the water from the incinerating fish ...

This is how ACUMAR proposes “the new approach” on MSW: “Energy recovery parks are spaces where different treatment processes of Urban Solid Waste are carried out, with the aim of recovering them by traditional methods or through the application of new technologies for its energy transformation […] ”. [6]

In this regard, Berterreche points out in his note already cited something extremely illustrative: “[…] when it was discovered that the Italian garbage exporters were from the mafia. The outraged citizens of Mallorca say: "We do not want to be the landfill of Europe." But the contract that ties them to the incinerator runs until 2041. " Observe the patient reader: the incinerators have secured brutal deadlines; this one surely 30 years (denounced, in principle 27 years before expiration).


These contracts, leonines, lead the municipalities thus trapped to complementary perversions, as in the Mallorcan case to import waste from Ireland for long periods to "sustain" the contract ...

As a complementary detail to that provided by Berterreche, it is worth knowing that the Mafia, which controls the traffic of waste from Italy and a good part of the Mediterranean, was in charge of depositing or hiding such waste in defenseless places such as the devastated Somali territory as a consequence of colonialism and its counterpart, the narrow traditionalism. The tsunami that hit the Indian Ocean a few years ago (which killed thousands of people) literally unearthed clandestine deposits of waste of European origin made without any foresight along the Somali coast (very shallow burials), which revealed the cause of the enormous pollution and mortality present in the region.

Composted ... toxic

A whole chapter about something they call compost or composting. This is how companies that proclaim themselves environmentalists baptize what remains of the waste after removing paper, cardboard, glass, some plastics. The aforementioned mess is called composting. And we proceed to prepare it as if it were. However, it is a compost… toxic. Semantic perversion we have to deal with. The creators of such a treatment explain that the possible destination for such a conglomerate is the cover of more or less former landfills, landscaping in areas where foodstuffs cannot be planted and the short etcetera where such a mixture can be had.

Light of luggage, they propose us to have two landscapes, two realities, two lands, two crops; one, planting to feed ourselves (or not) and another where it would in no way be sensible to grow food since that compost has intermingled the most unimaginable, toxic remains of the “garbage bag” that each neighbor gets rid of every day ...

Agribusiness has introduced a principle of schizophrenia by using the field, the land, for crops based on the use of toxins and poisons, which assure us of problematic foods, coexisting with food crops (organic, without the use of poisons). Manufacturing Toxic Compost Raises the Level of Schizophrenia to New Marks ...

Tying flies by the tail

You want not, the advance of ecological awareness and the dangers resulting from abuse of nature, advances.

Let's see how Agenda 21 of the Rio 92 Summit proposes the approach to the problem of MSW, an instance that perhaps reached the highest international resonance, whose postulates "were taken up and emphasized" by the Johannesburg Summit in 2002: · generation minimization;

· Maximizing reuse and recycling;

· Environmentally sound disposal, treatment and disposal technologies, including energy recovery;

· Technologies for clean production and sustainable consumption;

· Research, experimentation, development and technological innovation on recycling, organic fertilizer and energy recovery;

· Public education, participation and community support in waste management. [7]

At first glance, half a dozen plausible measurements. However, in the fifth point, at the end, something appears that thwarts the previous intentions: the very notion of "energy recovery" conspires against the "minimization of generation", that is, the dewatering of waste, it also goes against maximizing reuse and recycling and so on.

Energy recovery has its own dynamics, which arises from capital immobilized for its development: once a plant of this type is built, it is foolish to withdraw its "raw material"; on the contrary, there is a movement of attraction of MSW; the more that are achieved, the better "management" will be. This is what we see with the development of Swedish “recovery” plants; Their own garbage is no longer enough and far from reducing the turnover, they look for more from other countries ...

Strictly speaking, energy recovery only reaffirms the system of material waste from which some of us propose to get out. The burning of waste as a source of energy does not contradict any of the mainstays of the system; on the contrary it reinforces them.

For this reason, the proposals of the IGÉ, even when they try to address the environmental issue, that is to say to address the waste problem with an ecological prism, return to the "omnisolution" of the UN in its Agenda 21 postulating "recycling, recovery, energy valuation, the packaging law, composting, the production of biogas but never the burial of waste. " (IGÉ Institute) .vii

This same report emphasizes the separation of waste. This is a crucial point. But in general, the campaigns, schools, e-sites dedicated to recycling, start with what comes to us. With what would be the consumption.

Separating is not like blowing and making bottles

The first ecological measure that a society should take would be to shape, or rather to reconfigure production, that moment of things that very soon become consumed.

It is the production, factory, business, which creates often insurmountable difficulties for reuse, recycling and recovery tasks. We would have to learn to produce ecologically, according to devices that allow an acceptable recovery later. In other words, it is not about "energy recovery" because in this way, we burn everything and we do not care how our objects for daily use are made.

But changing the patterns of production leads us to question production as it exists, capitalism in action, the very notion of profit ...

One of the main difficulties for a healthy recovery of materials passes through the deliberate and planned mixing of materials carried out by the business world optimizing its yields to the detriment of planetary health: glass containers with well-adhered plastic lids that prevent or hinder often the separation by consumers or reclaimers; blixters, which are created with metal and plastic, equally difficult or impossible to separate; presence of labels, often printed with highly toxic inks and which are attached to plastic or glass containers ...

Paper envelopes from the business world with transparent plastic windows, laminated papers, which are not used to recover as plastic and even less as paper. The interference of plastic particles in the production of paper is so burdensome that paper mills in countries such as Sweden or Finland do not allow their staff to carry pens, because on occasions when a pen has become detached from a pocket and fell into the mixers of paper pulp, breaking the paper weft can damage tons of material ...

We know the reasons for many of these "amalgams": the improvement of some factor; for example, in the case of laminated papers, for wrapping, their greater and better resistance to humidity. A production that attends to the reduction and even to the suppression of intractable waste forces to look for other methods to prevent the damage that humidity can cause; for example, better stores, more careful shelf parking at a higher height, and so on.

Separating waste is no small or easy task. Such is the impression we receive when we hear the managers and the authorities speak about this. Too often, they don't know what they're talking about. If we really want to care for and preserve, we would have to separate the printed paper from the non-printed; the colorless glass of the colored one, in addition to the separations that we already indicated; there is no good solution when mixing polypropylene with polystyrene… these mixtures give only a plastic conglomerate hardly suitable for making posts or plaza benches. There is some insanely low recovery there, hardly better than producing pollution in the short term by burning or in the long term by burial.

The CABA has an energy-usable biomass circuit from trees in parks, squares and tree-lined streets (almost all of them) and private gardens. That properly collected can lead to clean energy. For this, the corresponding ovens and the corresponding caloric or energy utilization mechanisms must be implemented. And the same with the collection: avoid the polluting habit of tying the branches with plastic bags, for example. And recover the differentiated collection.

Street dumpsters have wreaked havoc with the laborious waste separation process.

There is plenty of material to compost too. Let's consider that practically half the weight of MSW is organic waste. But its preparation is much more demanding. For this reason, an organics recovery plan, apart from biomass directly usable as fuel, would have to establish guidelines for the collection, also differentiated, of compostable organic material. And given its complexity and delicacy, it would be necessary to begin by considering its formation in the population that has a piece of land, a situation that expands and increases away from the center of the Buenos Aires megalopolis. In dense areas, such as the federal capital, it may be more sensible to start a recovery plan with large users, such as restaurants, schools, to make compost. Good training course through. That organic does not have plastic cups or trays or cigarette butts, or printed napkins ...

The task is tough. But it is what we have ahead of us if we want to reduce the planetary poisoning. We can?

- Luis E. Sabini Fernández is a professor in the area of ​​Ecology and Human Rights of the Free Human Rights Chair of the Faculty of Philosophy and Letters of the UBA, journalist and editor of Futuros.

Alainet


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