Transport

Sewage Is Being Turned Into Biofuel to Renewably Power Cars and Utilities

A carmaker and a water management company have teamed up for the Life+ Methamorphosis project, which generates biomethane from human wastewater.

Just in time for World Water Day, here's some news we can use: European industry leaders revealed details this week for an ambitious project that would turn city wastewater into usable fuel for vehicles and utilities.

The project, dubbed Life+ Methamorphosis, outlines procedures for extracting biomethane from wastewater processing plants in Spain. The technology itself isn't new, but the commitment to action is noteworthy. This isn't just an eco-friendly concept outline - it's a fully funded program that's already underway.

The initiative pivots on an unusual partnership between European car maker SEAT and Aqualia, a Spanish water management company. Aqualia is handling the first phase of the program by installing a prototype biogas converter facility at an existing municipal sewage treatment plant outside of Barcelona.

The conversion process works like this: Specially prepared bacteria is mixed in with organic solid waste, which transforms the waste into raw biomethane gas. All of this happens within an impressive piece of technology called an anaerobic membrane bioreactor.

The gas is then processed a second time in order to remove nitrogen, which can itself be harvested for other consumer uses. The biogas comes out the other end, as it were, in the form of compressed natural gas (CNG). The biogas can be used either directly in vehicles for transportation or it can be piped into any natural gas distribution network.

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That's where automaker SEAT comes in. To demonstrate the viability of the program, the car company will provide a fleet of CMG vehicles to be fueled up from the wastewater plant.

According to SEAT and Aqualia, a medium-sized treatment plant - like the one used in the prototype run - can convert around 10,000 cubic meters of water and generate 1,000 cubic meters of biomethane in a 24-hour period. That's enough to power 150 vehicles for more than 60 miles per day.

In one year, CNG vehicles could drive nearly 3 million miles with the biofuel obtained from a single wastewater plant. Someone at SEAT crunched the numbers and determined that it's enough to make six return trips to the moon. There's no word on CNG lunar missions at this time, but still - good to know.

It's all promising news, and the timing of the announcement is quite deliberate. March 22 is World Water Day, largely coordinated by the United Nations to address sustainable management of water resources around the world. The Methamorphosis project is being funded in part by the European Union's LIFE+ program, which promotes new policies and technologies regarding environmental protection and climate change.

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