for National Geographic News
In a quest to wean itself off oil, Sweden is turning to an unusual alternative fuel: smuggled alcohol.
Last year, the Swedish government confiscated almost 200,000 gallons (more than 700,000 liters) of alcohol that was illegally brought into the country.
It used to be standard procedure for customs officials to pour the stuff down the drain.
Now the beer, wine, and spirits are instead converted into biofuel—which helps power thousands of cars, buses, taxis, garbage trucks, and even a train.
"This alcohol, which used to go to waste, is now turned into something that's positive for the environment," said Ingrid Jarlebrink of Tullverket, the Swedish Customs agency based in Malmö, Sweden.
Indeed, recycling alcohol is just one of a number of alternative transport fuels in use in Sweden.
(See related: " Here's the Scoop: San Francisco to Turn Dog Poop Into Biofuel" [March 21, 2006].)
More than one-quarter of all the energy consumed in Sweden in 2004 came from renewable sources—more than four times as much as the European Union average of 6 percent. In the capital, Stockholm, one-quarter of city buses run on ethanol or biogas.
In 2006 the Swedish government pledged to become the world's first oil-free country by 2020.
Sweden has among the highest prices of alcohol in Europe, and many Swedes travel to neighboring Germany and Denmark to stock up on cheap beer, wine, and spirits.
But traders bringing alcohol into Sweden who exceed the maximum amount allowed can have their goods confiscated.
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