Spare the jokes about Dung Beetles but the first methane-powered vehicle from Volkswagen made its official debut today on the streets of Bristol, England. The car, a 2 liter VW Beetle convertible, can drive 10,000 miles a year on the equivalent of the solid waste that 70 homes generate over the course of 12 months. If the car runs out of compressed methane, the system switches back to gasoline.
Fad or the future? At this point, that's hard to say though Geneco, the U.K. company which oversaw the conversion project, believes it's only a matter of time before methane from sewage sludge can become a popular alternative energy source for cars. (The Bio-Bug was built by the Greenfuel Company, which converts gasoline-based cars to run on liquefied petroleum gas.) In its press release, Geneco points out that more than 11,500 vehicles in Sweden run on biomethane made from sewage plants. It also notes that India and China use compressed natural gas to fuel their vehicles. But the idea still remains a novelty in the UK and virtually non-existent in the United States.
Geneco, which operates one of Britain's biggest sewage treatment works, put out a statement quoting the company's general manager, Mohammed Saddiq explaining how the increased production of bio gas will accelerate the growth in this still-nascent market.
"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," he said. "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."
And why choose a Volkswagon Beetle for the proof-of-concept prototype in the first place?
That was the contribution of a group of students who took part in a workshop, according to Siddiq.
"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," he said.
Here's a BBC video interview with Siddiq explaining how the converted VW works.