Human Waste Fueling Spanish Vehicles

poo-powerSpanish firm All-gas is using human waste to create biofuel, in what is a remarkably unique development.

The facility in Chiclana de la Frontera, Southwest Spain, uses waste water to produce algae-based biofuel. The 12m Euro project is part of Spain’s strategy to encourage alternative energy and reduce their reliance on fossil fuels.

Algae biofuels are an example of third generation biofuel technology; allowing the genetic modification of algae species to produce yields of long-chain fatty acids, which can then be transformed into fuels used in everyday vehicles.

All-gas is the first firm to produce bioenergy in this way; using wastewater and carbon dioxide to produce algae biomass, which is then transformed into a gas:

“Nobody has done the transformation from wastewater to biofuel, which is a sustainable approach,” said All-gas project leader, Frank Rogalla.

The small plant is still in its early stages of development, as is algae biofuel production generally. Only 200 square metres in size, and in pilot phase, the plant produced its first batch of algae in May, with fuel likely to be available for use at Christmas.

However, by 2015, the facility will potentially produce enough fuel to power 200 cars or 10 city garbage trucks for a year. Although it is clear that this will not displace regular petroleum fuel for some time, as the technology develops it is expected that yields will grow and average costs of production will fall.

In general, third generation fuels will provide a more environmentally sustainable alternative to the current range of biofuels available to fuel distributors. The global fuel industry is currently set up with bio fuel and oil tanks which utilise sugar cane and corn ethanol.

These fuels, however, could potentially cause large-scale land use changes and put pressure worldwide on food prices if production levels rise to displace fossil fuels.

While second generation fuels offer advantages of using non-food sources of crops, third generation fuels would hope to eradicate the requirement of cropland for fuel production, reducing the likelihood of environmental issues like deforestation.

The Chiclana de la Frontera location was chosen for the algae plant because it has the conditions necessary for algae production; this includes large amounts of sunlight and a long Oceanside stretch of land that is rich in salt, where algae can be grown in man-made ponds.

However, while algae fuels may not require land for crop production, it is not a resource free process; land is still required to house algae ponds, with additional requirements for water and energy. Researchers have stated that it may be years until algae fuels are commercially viable.

However, All-gas is now looking at new regions in Spain for expansion, with around 300 small towns identified where another similar project could potentially work:

“The opportunity is such that 40 million people, roughly the population of Spain, would be able to power 200,000 vehicles from just flushing their toilet!” said Rogalla.

While this assertion may be hopeful, continued investment in this industry is likely to help fuel further developments.

 This post was sponsored by RPM Fuels.

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