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Car is flushed with power

The UK’s first people-powered VW Beetle has taken to the streets of Bristol in what has been hailed as a breakthrough in the drive to encourage sustainable power.

Bio-Bug by sludge digesters

The Bio-Bug runs on methane gas generated during the sewage treatment process.

Waste flushed down the toilets of just 70 homes in Bristol is enough to power the Bio-Bug for a year, based on an annual mileage of 10,000 miles.

With support from the South West Regional Development Agency, GENeco, a Wessex Water-owned company, imported specialist equipment to treat gas generated at Bristol sewage treatment works in Avonmouth to power the VW Beetle in a way that doesn’t affect its performance.

Mohammed Saddiq, GENeco’s general manager, said he was confident that methane from sewage sludge could be used as an alternative energy source and was an innovative way of powering company vehicles.

He said: “Our site at Avonmouth has been producing biogas for many years which we use to generate electricity to power the site and export to the National Grid.

“With the surplus gas we had available we wanted to put it to good use in a sustainable and efficient way.

“We decided to power a vehicle on the gas offering a sustainable alternative to using fossil fuels which we so heavily rely on in the UK.

“If you were to drive the car you wouldn’t know it was powered by biogas as it performs just like any conventional car. It is probably the most sustainable car around.”

"On first hearing of the Bio-Bug, some people will smile, and some people will go ‘yuck’! Either way, what I hope they realise is that this is exactly the kind of innovation we now need for a more sustainable world – and those directly involved should be proud they’re making a small but significant contribution to it everyday!"
Jonathon Porritt, Founder Director, Forum for the Future

Countries including India and China use compressed natural gas (CNG) to power vehicles and a number of companies in the UK are now using CNG mainly to fuel buses and commercial vehicles. In Sweden, more than 11,500 vehicles already run on biomethane produced from sewage plants.

But using biogas from sewage sludge is yet to take off in the UK despite a significant amount being produced everyday at sewage plants around the country.

To use biogas as vehicle fuel without affecting vehicle performance or reliability the gas needs to be treated – a process called biogas upgrading. It involves carbon dioxide being separated from the biogas using specialist equipment.

If all the biogas produced at Avonmouth was converted to run cars it would avoid around 19,000 tonnes of CO2.

GENeco believes that more gas will be produced at its Avonmouth site when the company embarks on its latest green venture to recycle food waste.

Bio-Bug car on the roadMr Saddiq said: “Waste flushed down the toilets in homes in the city provides power for the Bio-Bug, but it won’t be long before further energy is produced when food waste is recycled at our sewage works.

“It will mean that both human waste and food waste will be put to good use in a sustainable way that diverts waste from going to landfill.”

Around 18 million cubic metres of biogas is produced at Bristol sewage treatment works a year.

It is generated through anaerobic digestion – a process in which bugs in the absence of oxygen break down biodegradable material to produce methane.

Bath-based Greenfuel Company converted the Beetle so it could run on biogas while bosses from GENeco ran a workshop at a University of Bath event for teenagers from schools in Bath and North East Somerset to come up with ideas for the car’s design.

Mr Saddiq added: “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 breakdown waste at sewage works to start the treatment process which goes on to produce the energy.”

Bio-bug in treatment process

The Anaerobic Digestion and Biogas Association (ADBA) said the launch of the Bio-Bug proved that biomethane from sewage sludge could be used as an alternative fuel for vehicles.

ADBA chairman Lord Rupert Redesdale said: “This is a very exciting and forward-thinking project demonstrating the myriad benefits of anaerobic digestion (AD).

“Biomethane cars could be just as important as electric cars, and the water regulator Ofwat should promote the generation of as much biogas as possible through sewage works in the fight against climate change.”

ADBA chief executive Charlotte Morton added: “We are delighted to see such ingenuity and commitment to maximising the potential of AD from the water industry.”

GENeco said if the trial involving the Bio-Bug proved successful it would look to convert some of the company’s fleet of vehicles to run on biogas.

Claire Gibson, director of sustainable resources at the South West RDA, said: “I am really pleased that we have been able to support GENeco to demonstrate this alternative transport fuel.

“We have invested in a range of emerging low carbon technologies and renewable energy fuel types such as this to ensure the South West is well positioned to take advantage of this growing market.

“It is vital that the knowledge from initiatives such as this biogas project is shared so we can move more quickly towards a low carbon, resource efficient economy. I look forward to continuing to work with GENeco to achieve this."

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