Will You Drive A Hyundai Kona EV That's Powered By Human Waste?
This electric SUV demonstrates how better wastewater treatment is helping people save almost Rs 1 lakh per year on fuel costs
If you hadn’t noticed the side decals or number plate, the Hyundai Kona Electric you see in the pictures runs on energy derived from human waste. Queensland Urban Utilities, a sewage treatment company based in Australia, owns this electric vehicle (EV). It’s called the S-Poo-V ‘Number 2,’ because it’s the second sewage-powered car from the company, aside from the obvious reference to poop. To everyone asking where the extra electricity to power EVs will come from, here’s one possible answer.
Before this, Urban Utilities had launched a Mitsubishi i-MiEV electric hatchback in 2017 that was simply called ‘Poo Car.’ Now, the Number 2 is a Hyundai Kona Electric SUV, possibly an older and lower-spec variant with a 39.2kWh battery. In Australia, Hyundai currently sells the 2021 Kona Electric with a larger 64kWh battery and 200PS/395Nm electric motor, starting at the equivalent of Rs 38 lakh. The car owned by Urban Utilities is similar to the India-spec pre-facelift Hyundai Kona Electric with a 450km driving range. In India, it retails from Rs 23.78 lakh (ex-showroom).
Urban Utilities says that the average person’s daily sewage only generates enough power to travel 450m. If that doesn’t sound like much, it isn’t -- it takes 1.5 lakh litres of sewage to fully charge the Kona once. With all the sewage that it gets to treat from southern and western Brisbane, the company can power up to 4,000 homes for a full year.
‘Waste-to-wire’ sewage treatment plants exist in India, too. 7 of Chennai’s 12 wastewater treatment plants have biogas generators. Without a doubt, sewage is a perennial source of electricity.
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It all starts from an inevitable by-product of sewage treatment -- sludge. Sludge is a viscous mass of organic matter that’s teeming with organic matter-eating bacteria. Treatment plants recycle their sludge many times, but ‘residual sludge’ is still an environmental hazard. You can incinerate it, but a more environmentally-friendly way is to feed it to anaerobic bacteria that convert it into a methane-rich gas called biogas. By this point, your poop has turned into clear water and combustible fuel!
International environmental agencies say that even converting petrol and diesel cars to biogas can help reduce lifetime emissions of greenhouse gases in cars. That’s how the first-ever poop-powered car, the Bio Bug, was born. It was a Volkswagen Beetle cabriolet launched in 2010 by UK company GENeco and modified to run on refined biogas, similar to how petrol cars can be modified to run on CNG. But unless the plant has a biomethane refining unit, biogas from sewage needs to be refined off-site to be used in cars. In most cases, burning the biogas off in a gas turbine on-site is the greenest way to dispose of it. In other words, your poop can help solve global warming and power your car, if processed the right way!
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