Recently, a journalist who is also a patient of mine was invited on a tour of Drax power station in North Yorkshire, the largest in the UK. During her last appointment she started to explain that the purpose of the press trip was to find out more about how the power station, which provides 7-8% of the UKâ€™s electricity, had converted two of its six generating units to burn biomass instead of coal. This process is said to be sustainable and a method that had drastically reduced Draxâ€™s carbon emissions making it the UKâ€™s largest generator of renewable energy on a single site. But what is biomass and how can it be a sustainable option for the national grid here in the UK?
Draxâ€™s biomass starts its life as sawmill residue, misshapen bits of trees and left over wood from legally logged trees in North American forests. Tons of scrap material is pulped into wooden pellets and shipped to the UK. My patient explained that coal production is set to finish in 2020. She was told that the process of creating electricity through biomass is far more energy efficient and can actually complement other forms of sustainable technology. I was intrigued. Working at my orthodontic practice day to day, I am aware of how much energy is needed to power even the smallest of clinics.
Meanwhile, the global media has been obsessing about sugar and anyone who has seen the recent Channel 4 â€˜Sugar Rushâ€™ programme with Jamie Oliver will be left in no doubt that it is for good reason. Jamieâ€™s horror at the damage sugar is causing teeth and health made for compelling viewing.
Whatâ€™s the connection?
After the conversation with my patient, I couldnâ€™t help reflect on the dilemma that the need for energy (in its different forms) can pose. Sugar is of course a carbohydrate, which we need, but too frequent and excessive consumption will inevitably cause health problems. Electricity is also something we need and a reliable source is essential but rather than the end product having detrimental effects likes sugar, it is the process and source of the fuel product that causes major problems. My hopes for the future are that after years of consuming sugar and producing fuel in damaging fashions, we see a bad-turning-good scenario both in sustainable energy and reduction in sugar consumption.