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Smuggled booze fuels Swedish buses

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13:24 CET+01:00
Every day hordes of Swedes return to the country with cars, vans and trucks loaded with booze after trips away to Denmark, Germany and the Baltic states, where alcohol does less damage to the wallet.

Not all of the alcohol makes it to the drinks cabinet however. While generous quantities may be brought in to Sweden for personal use, there are limits, and customs officials still confiscate enormous quantities of beer, wine and spirits.

Having got over the initial disappointment of losing the intoxicating contents of their vehicles, many happy amateurs and bona fide smugglers are left wondering what has become of their stash.

The answer is as unexpected as it is ingenious. Rather than swelling bellies and playing tricks on minds, the confiscated plonk can often be found fuelling buses in mid-sized Swedish towns.

"We send the alcohol to Linköping, where it is treated and turned into fuel," Ursula Månsson from Swedish Customs told The Local.

For a country leading the way on renewable energy sources, this is a typically Swedish solution to a Swedish problem.

But there are many degrees of separation to be negotiated before the booze becomes biogas.

A couple of random Swedes may be used to illustrate the process. Lars and Anna Johansson take the ferry from Helsingborg in southern Sweden to Helsingör in Denmark. They are both fond of a tipple and are soon loading up the Volvo with 120 litres of assorted spirits; whiskey and gin for themselves and vast oceans of vodka for Johan and Emma, their post-teen kids.

Rolling off the ferry back on to Swedish shores, they smile contendedly at the thought of the hedonistic evenings at home that lie ahead. But a customs officer soon puts the dreaming on hold by informing Lars and Anna that they have overshot the EU's quantity guidelines by a full 100 litres.

Although the recommended limit is open to negotiation, the returning travellers fail to convince officials that the spirits are intended purely for personal consumption and duly lose the booze.

Before continuing along the fuel chain, however, the customs authorities must first prove that each individual decision to confiscate was correct.

Once the formalities have been dealt with, Lars and Anna's spirits are poured into a large cistern, where they mingle with existing quantities of beer, wine and spirits. Water is then added until the cocktail levels out at an alcohol content of around 10 percent.

When the mix is right, a tank truck arrives at the port to transport the customized drink 360 kilometres up the motorway to a biogas facility in Linköping.

Samar Nath from Svensk Biogas told The Local that the confiscated booze makes for great gas.

"Because of its high energy content, alcohol is fantastic for the production of biogas," he said.

Alcohol is just one of a range of raw materials the company uses to manufacture biogas. Others include slaughter-house waste and manure from nearby farms.

Nor is confiscated alcohol the only booze used in the production process.

"We also use alcohol for which the best before date has expired to produce biogas," said Nath.

When the organic matter has been treated and purified, it is sent out to the local refuelling station, where biogas from Svensk Biogas AB is the fuel of choice for the 64-strong fleet of town centre buses

As the good citizens of Linköping lay down to sleep, the local buses are out getting tanked up on cheap foreign booze. And in the morning they are ready to hit the town.

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