Getting our we-know-what together

There’s something really fishy going on here.

With billions of dollars being invested, much of it sadly wasted, on wind and solar energy as alternatives to fossil fuel, how can Washington ignore this most obvious solution to our pressing energy needs?

It’s everywhere around us, from barnyards to front yards, sewage plants to toilet bowls. The polite word for it is manure, aka organic waste. Rich in methane, it has the potential to power everything from power plants and luxury liners to lawnmowers and Lamborghinis.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, decomposing organic waste through oxygen-free anaerobic digesters produces a gaseous compound commonly known as biogas, 50-80 percent methane, 20-50% carbon dioxide. Biogas can be refined to produce renewable natural gas for use as a substitute for natural gas, which is more than 70 percent methane.

Biogas can thus be used to power natural gas vehicles, which are nothing more than fossil fuel-powered machines converted to run on natural gas. Literally every vehicle of every kind, from novelty to high performance, can run on biogas. In Japan Toto publicized its Neo Toilet Bike by driving it 870 miles cross country. And Volkswagen’s Team Biogas is leading the highly competitive Scandinavian Touring Car Championship.

In its Alternative Fuels and Advanced Vehicles Data Center Report, the DOE claims that “more than half the gas used in Sweden’s 11,500 natural gas vehicles is natural gas. Germany and Austria are targeting 20% biogas in natural gas fuel.” In the United States, they add lamely, “biogas activities have been on a smaller scale.”

The really good news about biogas is not how efficient and plentiful it is, or how well it works, but how beneficial it can be for our environment. First, converting organic waste to biogas prevents tons and tons of methane from escaping into the atmosphere, releasing a greenhouse gas 21 times stronger than carbon dioxide.

Second, according to the EPA, vehicles powered by natural gas (NGV) are the cleanest form of internal combustion transportation. Besides emitting fewer toxic and carcinogenic pollutants, they reduce carbon monoxide emissions 90-97 percent, carbon dioxide 25 percent, and nitrogen oxide 35-60 percent.

So why isn’t our government devoting considerably more time, energy and resources to this seeming win-win energy solution? Search us. In a town brimming with hot air and heavily committed to waste, there’s got to be an answer.

Maybe biogas could borrow Solyndra’s lobbyists, now that they don’t have much to do. Or there’s always Al Gore.