Here’s one for the “surprising” list: a consortium of researchers and business partners at the University of East Anglia in Britain has found that they can convert diesel buses to run on either diesel or methane for a “small fraction of the cost” of purchasing a natural gas-only bus. The implications for Britain’s (and the world’s) fleets of already-existing diesel buses are huge.
The buses will run on biomethane — which is methane captured from landfill decomposition or other sources of surface biological decomposition and not derived from buried fossil sources. Methane is a large part of what makes up natural gas. According to the consortium, the converted bus will reduce emissions of pollutants and greenhouse gases by about half when compared to a standard diesel-only bus.
The converted vehicle was originally part of the local bus fleet run by the Anglian Bus & Coach company. After conversion of the standard Mercedes diesel engine, the bus now runs from 60-80% of the time on biomethane and the rest on diesel. Having the option to switch back and forth provides flexibility to the bus operator in the case of a shortage of either fuel.
“Dual-fuel use is a very attractive option,” said project leader Dr. Bruce Tofield, of the University of East Anglia’s Low Carbon Innovation Centre. “The vehicle can still run on diesel, providing flexibility, but most of the time is running on biomethane gas which is a much cleaner and less polluting fuel.
“In particular, the cost of conversion of a diesel bus to dual-fuel use is a small fraction of the cost of a new natural gas bus,” he continued. “Conversion to dual-fuel use is potentially a viable option for most if not all diesel buses in the UK and, indeed, across Europe and more widely.”
The consortium says that by using biomethane they can reduce the operating cost of the bus on a cost per mile basis when compared to diesel-only. Also, they can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by about half as a result of using methane from landfill sites, food and agricultural waste when compared to burning natural gas mined out of the Earth.
These are the types of solutions I love. They make great business sense and solve some environmental issues at the same time. If this conversion is as easy and cheap as the researchers say, I don’t see why every city in the world with a fleet of diesel buses wouldn’t convert. Even if they used natural gas instead of biomethane, it would go a long way to reducing emissions. And then, when biomethane was more widely available, they could just start using that instead.
Image Credit: University of East Anglia