A service bus from Reading, UK, converted to run on bio-methane broke a land-speed record for a service bus recently, hitting 76.785 MPH, which is about 20 MPH faster than a typical bus can go (the driver said that he unofficially went above 80 MPH, but that wasn’t recorded as the official speed). Granted, that’s not exactly a face-melting speed, but the stunt had more to do with the fuel than the speed; the bus was powered by cow poop.
I’m not a big fan of most biofuels. In fact, I think the internal combustion engine (ICE) is on the way out because it’s inefficient and complex compared to electric motors, and it’s limited to only a few kinds of fuels while electric motors are omnivorous and can munch on electricity from any source (and as the grid becomes cleaner, they become cleaner too).
But some biofuels can make sense. Not those made from food crops like corn, because they jack food prices up and agriculture requires a lot of water and energy, making environmental benefits slim, if any. But biofuels made from waste can make sense, especially if that waste is methane, a powerful greenhouse gas that would otherwise go in the atmosphere and mess with its chemical and thermal balance.
Here’s the math:
According to the EPA, agriculture accounts for around 9 percent of the United States’ total greenhouse gas emissions. Of that, the majority is due to livestock, especially cattle, where methane is released into the atmosphere as the waste stews in fields and such places.
Compared to the 27 percent transportation contributes to the U.S.’s emissions problem, this might seem like a minor issue – but methane’s effect is around 20 percent stronger than that of carbon dioxide; if you could remove the cow manure using methane digesters from most California dairies, it would equate to the equivalent of eliminating one million cars from the roads. And that’s from just one state; there are around 88 million cattle on farms throughout the United States. What’s more, Sustainable Conservation suggests the biogas produced from that methane in California alone could power more than 100,000 vehicles. ( source)
So capturing methane from the decomposition of waste (all kinds), either to burn directly in converted large vehicles that we can’t electrify just yet, or in power plants, displacing fossil fuels, makes a ton of sense.
I recently wrote a piece about UPS deploying ‘renewable biogas’ in 400 of its vehicles, and hopefully other big fleet operators will do the same. These trucks drive all day, every day, and require a lot of fuel. They’re a low-hanging fruit for these types of alternative fuel conversions (and ultimately, to go all electric).
Youtube/Screen capture Wikimedia/Public Domain
As you can see, the bus was painted black and white like a Holstein Friesian cow. It normally carries passengers around Reading, a city West of London, UK.