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German plant turns incontinence pads into power

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BERLIN, Germany (Reuters) -- Germany has only a small amount of its own natural oil reserves, but an enterprising power plant chief believes it has found an alternative source of energy with a bright future in an aging nation -- used incontinence pads.

"It's an environmentally friendly source of energy," said Thomas Lesche, director of a Bremen incinerator plant that has signed a pioneering deal with a local retirement home to buy up 100 tons of used pads and soiled tissues each year.

"The pollution emissions with used pads are far lower than with oil or coal," added Lesche, who said he did not know of any other plant in Europe that turns incontinence pads into energy. "The content of nappies provide a great source of energy. The demand for used incontinence materials will grow in the future."

Lesche said the used pads may not be quite as good a source of energy as conventional fossil fuels such as oil, but he added they were nearly as efficient a source of energy as lignite, a softer coal with a higher water content.

"On top of that, it's much better for the environment to turn the waste into energy by incinerating it than leaving the pads to rot," Lesche said, "It's a ... sensible way to save natural resources."

Lesche's Muellheizwerk Bremen turns 330,000 tons of waste into energy each year.

Lesche recently signed a deal with a retirement home in the northern town of Harburg to buy its used 100 tons of waste, which translates into about 10,000 pads, in exchange for a 2,000 euro rebate on their annual waste collection bill.

Local Harburg authorities had first tried to block the move because it meant they would lose their fees for the waste disposal, but a local administrative court ruled in favor of the retirement home, allowing it to deal directly with the waste plant.

Lesche said the incontinence materials make up about one percent of the plant's energy output now, but he was confident that figure would rise.

Germany has a rapidly aging population with three percent of its 82 million people over 80, a figure which is projected to rise to 10 percent by 2040.

Germany is western Europe's largest oil importer. There are some oil and natural gas reserves in northern Germany and the country's oil demand in 2004 is expected to reach to 116 million tons in 2004.

Copyright 2003 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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