Sustainability Blog

Where There’s Muck, There’s Gas

By Simon Johns - Jul 20, 2021

There is a car in Australia powered by human waste, kind of. While this is technically true, it’s a little more complicated than that but it’s still cool. Queensland Urban Utilities, a sewage treatment company, recently demonstrated it’s Hyundai Kona Electric charged by power generated from treated sewage biogas.

About 150,000 liters of sewage produces enough biogas for a full charge, equivalent to 1,000 people’s daily motions, says Queensland Urban Utilities on its website. The company generates the electricity at its own facility in a cogeneration engine to power the car of course nicknamed Number 2 since its predecessor, Number 1, is Mitsubishi i-MiEV.

This looks like the perfect convergence between my two beats, electric vehicles and sustainability. But only up to a point. There is almost unlimited supply of human waste that can be processed into what’s known as biogenic methane. This can be used to generate electricity in the typical way with a steam turbine.

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This is where the calculation of its carbon benefits becomes tricky. Burning a hydrocarbon such as methane biogas creates carbon dioxide, which is also a greenhouse gas and stays in the atmosphere for hundreds of years compared with decades, in the case of methane.  

According to the Environmental Defense Fund, an American environmental NGO, if processed biogas is derived from existing resources like landfill and animal waste, it can be climate neutral since it reduces fossil fuel extraction and emissions. But this net benefit is negated when refined biogas if derived from purpose-grown crops and adds to global carbon production instead of offsetting fossil-fuel consumption.

As with all things related to environmental sustainability and zero-emissions mobility, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. But as far as lube makers are concerned, an EV is an EV and still doesn’t need engine oil regardless of the provenance of the electricity charging the battery.

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