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Finnish Company Wants to Power the Country With Horse Poop

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Finnish homes could soon be powered by a new type of green energy: horse poop. Fortum, a Finnish energy company, is experimenting with a new biofuel harvested straight from the stables. 

Fortum estimates that the manure of three horses could heat a single-family home for a year, based on a spring pilot with four stables and one power plant. That means Finland’s 70,000 horses could power 23,000 homes. 

The system uses the wooden shavings that already line the stalls of many horse stables. After the horses poop in their stalls, Fortum gathers the wood and manure mix and spreads it on a field to make sure the moisture levels are even. Next, the mixture goes to a biomass power plant, where it’s mixed with other wood shavings (recycled from the country’s large timber industry) and burned. 

Pre-fuel mix. Image Credit: Fortum

So far the pilot tested a combination of wood and waste with only 10 percent manure, but they plan to up the proportion to 20 percent soon, with an expanded pilot of the biofuel system planned for the fall. 

Horse manure doesn’t pose quite the environmental problem it did back in the days of horse-drawn carriages, but it still can pose a water pollution risk. A mixture of horse manure and stable bedding isn’t ideal as compost for plants, and in the European Union, manure can’t be spread on sloped land, lest it run down the hill and into the water supply during a storm. Finnish horse lovers can't dispose of the animals' waste in landfills, either, per a law that takes effect in 2016. Thus, turning what would be stable refuse into energy addresses Finland's poop problem and puts the country back on the road toward replacing a portion of its fossil fuel usage with biofuels. If it proves successful, other horse-loving countries (like the 9.5-million-horse-strong U.S.) might follow suit. 

[h/t: CityLab]

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McDonald's May Be Getting Rid of Its Plastic Straws
Philippe Huguen, AFP/Getty Images
Philippe Huguen, AFP/Getty Images

First Seattle and then the Queen. Could the Golden Arches be next to join the anti-straw movement? As Fortune reports, McDonald's shareholders will vote at their annual meeting on May 24 on a proposal to phase out drinking straws at the company's 37,000-plus locations in the U.S.

If passed, the fast food behemoth would join the ranks of other governments and businesses around the world that have enacted bans against straws in an effort to reduce plastic waste. Straws are notoriously hard to recycle and typically take hundreds of years to decompose.

McDonald's is currently in the process of removing plastic straws from its roughly 1300 outlets in the UK. However, McDonald's board of directors opposes the move in the U.S., arguing that it would divert money from the company's other eco-friendly initiatives, The Orange County Register reports. This echoes comments from the plastic industry, which says efforts should instead be focused on improving recycling technologies.

"Bans are overly simplistic and may give consumers a false sense of accomplishment without addressing the problem of litter," Scott DeFife of the Plastics Industry Association told the Daily News in New York City, where the city council is mulling a similar citywide ban.

If the city votes in favor of a ban, they'd be following in the footsteps of Seattle, Miami Beach, and Malibu, California, to name a few. In February, Queen Elizabeth II was inspired to ban straws at royal palaces after working with David Attenborough on a conservation film. Prime Minister Theresa May followed suit, announcing in April that the UK would ban plastic straws, cotton swabs, and other single-use plastic items.

It's unclear how many straws are used in the U.S. By one widely reported estimate, Americans use 500 million disposable straws per day—or 1.6 straws per person—but it has been noted that these statistics are based on a survey conducted by an elementary school student. However, plastic straws are the fifth most common type of trash left on beaches, according to data reported by Fortune.

[h/t Fortune]

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Hawaii's Kilauea Volcano Is Causing Another Explosive Problem: Laze
Mario Tama, Getty Images
Mario Tama, Getty Images

Rivers of molten rock aren't the only thing residents near Hawaii's Kilauea volcano have to worry about. Lava from recent volcanic activity has reached the Pacific Ocean and is generating toxic, glass-laced "laze," according to Honolulu-based KITV. Just what is this dangerous substance?

Molten lava has a temperature of about 2000°F, while the surrounding seawater in Hawaii is closer to 80°F. When this super-hot lava hits the colder ocean, the heat makes the water boil, creating powerful explosions of steam, scalding hot water, and projectile rock fragments known as tephra. These plumes are called lava haze, or laze.

Though it looks like regular steam, laze is much more dangerous. When the water and lava combine, and hot lava vaporizes seawater, a series of reactions causes the formation of toxic gas. Chloride from the sea salt mixes with hydrogen in the steam to create a dense, corrosive mixture of hydrochloric acid. The vapor forms clouds that then turn into acid rain.

Laze blows out of the ocean near a lava flow
USGS

That’s not the only danger. The lava cools down rapidly, forming volcanic glass—tiny shards of which explode into the air along with the gases.

Even the slightest encounter with a wisp of laze can be problematic. The hot, acidic mixture can irritate the skin, eyes, and respiratory system. It's particularly hazardous to those with breathing problems, like people with asthma.

In 2000, two people died in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park from inhaling laze coming from an active lava flow.

The problem spreads far beyond where the lava itself is flowing, pushing the problem downwind. Due to the amount of lava flowing into the ocean and the strength of the winds, laze currently being generated by the Kilauea eruptions could spread up to 15 miles away, a USGS geologist told Reuters.

[h/t Forbes]

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