August 12, 2010 @ 10:36 am

And, no, it isn’t the Tim Burton movie of the same name, but a Volkswagen automobile called the Bio-Bug that runs on methane gas extracted from a nearby sewage treatment plant outside Bristol, England. Unlike the almost mythical water-fueled car, the methane-driven Bio-Bug is here now, and – according to the report in Wheels – gets enough gas from 70 area toilets to travel 10,000 miles a year.

Ten thousand miles might not seem like much to American drivers, but in the UK that distance – roughly 16,000 kilometers – would take a Brit back and forth from London to Edinburgh about 30 times. Of course, the methane has to be treated before it can be burned in the Bio-Bug’s modified engine, and the process – called biogas upgrading – is also used to “condition” the methane Wessex Water (the supplier) sells to regional electric utility National Grid. In fact, notes Wessex Water subsidiary, GENeco (which makes the equipment used to render raw methane into fuel), the fuel isn’t much different than the compressed natural gas, or CNG, used by about 1.5 million vehicles in Argentina and Pakistan, or the 7.2 million other CNG vehicles operating around the globe, according to CNGnow.com.

Unlike CNG, however, methane (one of the worst global warming gases) is readily available. In fact, other than using it as fuel, there’s no efficient way to get rid of it except burning it off, and according to GENeco’s General Manager, Mohammed Saddiq, it works as effectively in combustion engines as conventional fuels.

The Bio-Bug’s builder, UK-based Greenfuel Company, reports converting more than 100,000 vehicle engines to burn liquefied petroleum gas, or LPG, in the past five years, and notes that the methane conversion is a market still in its infancy.

According to the Anaerobic Digestion and Biogas Association, though, the paradigm-setting Bio-Bug and its poo-based propulsion system proves that biogas is a viable fuel, and that its use could help the UK meet greenhouse gas emission reduction targets of 34 percent by 2020 (and a whopping 80 percent by 2050), once the technology is perfected. Most importantly, notes Saddiq, methane offers an alternative to the fossil fuels on which the UK and other industrialized nations rely so heavily to power their vehicles, homes and industries.

For Volkswagen, which has committed itself to delivering a new generation of electric and hybrid vehicles to monopolize the world’s burgeoning “green car” market, the Bio-Bug is a signpost pointing toward a profitable yet affordable clean-energy future. For those truly forward-thinking individuals who have installed anaerobic digestion, or composting, toilets in their homes to reduce water use, the idea of powering one’s car off one’s toilet is uniquely delightful, in a crude sort of way.

In any case, I’m willing to bet that those energy savants who coined the phrase “getting off the grid” never had toilets in mind when they visualized energy independence.

One Response to “Beetle Juice”

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