Powered by poo

01/09/2010 03:11


Human waste is well on its way to gaining more respect.

SOME ‘S’ words are considered a taboo, even in today’s modern society. But after a breakthrough discovery in Britain recently, all that has changed.

Sewage sludge, or more commonly known as human waste, has emerged an unlikely hero as the alternative energy source to fossil fuel.

Wessex Water, the British unit of YTL Power International, confirmed this theory after tests began on a Volkswagen Beetle car that was powered by methane gas extracted from human waste.

Never before has a car been this “soiled” in Britain. Based on an annual mileage of 16,000km, waste flushed down the toilets of just 70 homes is said to be enough to power the “Bio-Bug” for a year.

“If you were to drive the car, you wouldn’t know it was powered by biogas as it performs just like any conventional car,” said Mohammed Saddiq, general manager of GENeco, a Wessex Water-owned company. Acquired by YTL Power International in 2002, Wessex Water runs as a regional water and sewage treatment business, serving an area of up to 10,000sqkm in the south-west of England. GENeco is the group’s specialist in organic waste solutions.


Not to be pooh-poohed: Britain’s first human waste-powered VW Beetle. 


To ensure that the VW Beetle is powered without a lag in performance, GENeco imported specialist equipment to treat gas generated at the Bristol sewage treatment works in Avonmouth. Known as biogas upgrading, the process removes carbon dioxide from the biogas to convert it into reliable vehicle fuel.

What you must know is that biogas is not just an innovative alternative to fossil fuel. It is also the answer to environmental preservation. If we were to convert all the biogas produced in Avonmouth to run cars, we could easily prevent the emission of around 19,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide.

Every year, around 18 million cu m of biogas are produced at the site through anaerobic digestion – a process where bugs, in the absence of oxygen, break down sewage to produce methane.

And precisely so, the VW Beetle was chosen based on this fact.

“The choice of car was inspired by students who took part in a workshop. They thought it would be appropriate that the poo-powered car should be the classic VW Beetle Bug because bugs naturally break down waste at sewage works to start the treatment process which goes on to produce the energy,” Saddiq revealed.

He confirmed that GENeco is all set to convert some of the company’s fleet of vehicles to run on biogas once the Bio-Bug experiment proved to be successful.

Although a significant amount of biogas is being produced every day at sewage plants, many in Britain still do not want to have much to do with poo. In Sweden, there are over 11,500 vehicles already running on biogas.

Lord Rupert Redesdale, chairman of the Anaerobic Digestion and Biogas Association, believes that biomethane cars could be just as important as electric cars in the fight against climate change.

If human waste isn’t exactly your kind of thing, it would be helpful to know that GENeco also has plans to recycle food waste as an alternative energy source. This means that both human and food waste would be put to good use in a sustainable way to divert waste from going directly to the landfill.




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