'Bio-Bug' Taps the Power of Human Waste

BRISTOL, United Kingdom — A U.K. water company unveiled a Volkswagen Beetle this week powered by methane gas that is produced by human waste.

The so-called "Bio-Bug" cruised the streets of Bristol using methane generated by the local sewage treatment facility. The waste from 70 homes can power the Bio-Bug for a year, according to Wessex Water and its subsidiary, GENeco.

The companies have for years generated biogas from sewage sludge for use in producing electricity, but sometimes ended up with a surplus. The Bristol sewage treatment facility produces about 18 million cubic meters of biogas each year.

"We decided to power a vehicle on the gas offering a sustainable alternative to using fossil fuels which we so heavily rely on in the U.K.," Mohammed Saddiq, GENeco's general manager, said in a statement. "If you were to drive the car you wouldn't know it was powered by biogas as it performs just like any conventional car. It is probably the most sustainable car around." Bio-Bug runs on methane generated by human waste

The biogas is produced through anaerobic digestion before undergoing a second treatment to remove carbon dioxide before it can be used in vehicles. The process holds significant potential for widespread use in a way that might also curb the amount of waste sent to local landfills.

"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," Saddiq 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."

Already more than 11,500 vehicles in Sweden run on sewage-generated biomethane. If the Bio-Bug test is successful, GENeco said it will explore converting some of its fleet vehicles to run on the biogas.