Deakin Communicating Science 2016

EES 200/101

Poo Power

 

Introduction

In 2010, the Bio-Bug, the dung beetle of the car world managed to achieve the same performance as a petrol powered car while running on biomethane. Biomethane is a naturally occurring gas which is produced through the anaerobic digestion of organic matter such as manure and sewage [1].   

 

Anaerobic digestion

Anaerobic digestion works by bacteria breaking down the manure and human waste in an digester (tank) that contains no oxygen. As the bacteria break down the poo they release a biogas consisting of mainly methane as a by product. The biogas is collected and the methane is separated from the other gases to create biomethane which can be used to power vehicles. This process provides an efficient way of treating and disposing of human sewage as it removes biochemical oxygen and reduces pathogens from the sewage. The current sewage treatment systems require large amounts of energy to treat the human sewage whereas the anaerobic digestion process produces energy rather than consume it.

 

Biomethane vs natural gas

Biomethane is chemically identical to natural gas however it is classified as a green source of energy as it uses “fresh” organic matter instead of the fossil fuels used to produce natural gas making it a  green renewable fuel for vehicles. With the US alone producing 1 billion tons of manure from agriculture [4], manure and human excrement seem to be in abundance unlike the fossil fuels used for natural gas production which look bleak.

 

Environmental benefits of biomethane production

The creation of biomethane has environmental benefits as manure and human excrement when left to decompose naturally emits methane and nitrous dioxide into the atmosphere. Methane is a greenhouse gas that is 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide if released into the atmosphere and contributes to the greenhouse effect [1]. The production of biomethane reduces the emissions of methane and nitrous oxide into the atmosphere and uses the gases in a more productive way.

 

Environmental benefits of biomethane powered cars

The usage of a biomethane CNG hybrid can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by approximately 80% as compared to the usage of gasoline fueled vehicles for example the Toyota Prius CNG Hybrid prototype fuelled by biomethane (produced) from waste lowers emissions by 87% in comparison to gasoline fueled vehicles [3].  

 

Reasons why we should run cars on biomethane 

  • The significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions
  • Can be used in cars that run on natural gas
  • There is a wide variety of methane vehicles in Europe
  • Competitive with other renewable petrol alternatives
  • Fuel is cheaper than diesel

 

Reasons why we shouldn’t run cars on biomethane 

  • The capital and upfront costs are higher
  • Some models require petrol to start the ignition
  • Less energy in a single tank of the same size (CNG only)

 

 

References

  1. http://www.biomethane.org.uk/ 
  2. http://cleantechnica.com/2014/11/27/first-bus-running-biomethane-human-poop-launches-uk/
  3. http://www.climatetechwiki.org/technology/biomethane-cng#top

 

 

 

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This entry was posted on May 8, 2016 by in Burwood - Friday 10am.

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