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Irish Times: Garbage our best energy hope, peakoil forum told (*Lord Oxburgh talks garbage)

Michelle McDonagh, in Cork, Irish Times
Published: Sep 19, 2007

Urban refuse could be the biggest resource the world has in combating the future energy crisis, the former non-executive chairman of Shell UK, Lord Oxburgh, told a major conference in Cork yesterday.

Garbage, he said, contained an enormous amount of organic material, such as newspapers, grass cuttings, food and old shoes,that could be used to release energy to produce biofuel.

“If you took the organic component of US garbage today and theoretically released the energy from it, you would have enough energy to fuel the current US fleet of service vehicles.

“We can be guaranteed that our grandchildren will look at us in astonishment. We thought we had an energy crisis and we threw this away and put it into landfill,” he said.

The chairman of the House of Lords select committee on science and technology and honorary professor at Cambridge University was the keynote speaker at the sixth annual Association for the Study of Peak Oil and Gas (ASPO) conference in Cork yesterday on the theme of Out of Oil, Into Hot Water.

Lord Oxburgh highlighted the urgent need to capture and store carbon emissions into the future as the world’s most energy-hungry countries, the US, China and India, run out of oil and gas and use more coal.

“These countries have close to two-thirds of the world’s coal. If this coal is burnt and its CO2 released into the atmosphere, it will swamp anything we do in the developed world to manage emissions,” he warned.

“Today I believe is the end of the era of cheap energy at least for another 150 years. There may be other cheap sources that we would not dream of today.

“Essentially, we need to move away from fossil fuels as quickly as possible but this will be slow and take decades at least.”

Lord Oxburgh said the energy crisis was so urgent that solutions would have to be put in place now that may not be long-term. In transport the most obvious solutions today were biofuels and electric propulsion.

He said the cleanest alternative to fossil fuel was biomass which could be produced from crushing oily seeds and sugar fermentation. But the production of biofuel should not compete with food for land or water as the world’s population was set to increase to nine billion by 2050.

Minister for Energy and Natural Resources Eamon Ryan said the ASPO conference was of huge national as well as international significance as Ireland was very exposed as a country with 90 per cent of energy generated from imported fossil fuels and 60 per cent from oil.

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