The Power Of Shit

As of yesterday, residents of Bath in southwest England have the exciting opportunity to ride a bus powered entirely by their own garbage and excrement:

The 40-seat “Bio-Bus” runs on biomethane gas, generated through the treatment of sewage and food waste. It can travel up to 186 miles on one tank of gas, which takes the annual waste of around five people to produce. The bus is run by Bath Bus Company and will transport passengers between Bath and Bristol Airport. Engineers believe the bus could provide a sustainable way of fuelling public transport while improving urban air quality.

The gas is generated at Bristol sewage treatment works, run by GENeco, a subsidiary of Wessex Water. It produces fewer emissions than traditional diesel engines and is both renewable and sustainable. This week, the company also became the first in the UK to inject gas generated from human and food waste into the national gas grid network.

Fittingly, the Bio-Bus rolled out on the heels of World Toilet Day. But this is not the only poo-based technology to come out recently. As Becky Ferreira points out, we are in the midst of a veritable golden age of human-waste recycling:

True to its rich history, poop-based energy has now evolved into a multifaceted and diverse set of industries. In 2004, a waste management facility in Renton, Washington received a $22,000,000 gr​ant to build a power plant that could turn sewage into electricity. The same year, a rancher figured out how to power his dairy far​m with cow patties and an engineering professor turned pig crap into​ crude oil.

These examples illustrate that by the 21st century, sophisticated poop-based power had been accepted as a real possibility by the public, business, and academic spheres. It was further launched to new heights in 2011, when the Gates Foundation launched the ReInvent the ​Toilet Challenge in 2011. … And it’s not just human poop, either. Manure-fueled biogas facilities are becoming more common, and one mas​sive new project in Missouri points to the future. The $80 million facility involves covering some 88 hog waste lagoons—poop lagoons, yeah—and capturing waste gas for processing in biogas digesters.