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'Year of the Pig' Brings More Power to Korea


Many Asian nations are marking this as the Year of the Pig on the Chinese zodiac calendar, which sees pigs as a symbol of good fortune and prosperity. South Korea is marking the Year of the Pig both symbolically and organically, with an energy-saving and cost-cutting plant that turns pig waste into electrical power. As VOA Seoul correspondent Kurt Achin tells us, wealth can come in many forms.

These are the oinks of progress.

It may not be apparent, but these pigs are helping to light and heat homes. They are the key players in a new South Korean program to generate electricity. By constantly feeding, 2,500 pigs generate 20 tons of waste a day.

Engineers at this plant use a bacterial process to make "biogas" from the waste -- of which the key ingredient is methane. "Before we can derive the biogas, we need to remove hair and other particles. That happens up on the left. Then, we scrape away micro-organisms, and that happens over on the right," explains Sung In Yoo.

The process and the plant are every bit as fragrant as one might imagine.

But, with the right ID and password, managers can control plant operations from any remote location, such as a much nicer smelling office.

Environmental expert Hong Seung-mo directs the project. He says pig waste power is still in the early days, but has great potential.

"South Korea produces 51 million tons of animal waste every year. Usually it is dumped into the ocean, but that will become illegal in 2011. So in 2012, we need another way to deal with it. These techniques can also be used to deal with household sewage, and even restaurant food waste."

The gas from the waste processing is captured in a giant balloon inside a two-story steel tower.

Some of the methane stays on site to power the plant's small electric generator. The rest is pressurized and sent to a local electricity production facility. Engineers say the output of this pig-power plant can help light up several high-rise apartment buildings.

More than half the money for the pig power project comes from the South Korean government. The government hopes to expand the project nationwide to eventually replace the purchase of 360 thousand tons of oil every year.

With savings like that, the pig could really live up to its reputation for bringing prosperity.

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