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The Truth About Biofuels and Human Waste

If you fell for our April Fool’s post with the phoney press release about a Swedish company using urine as a biofuels, you can be forgiven for falling for it. The truth is actually not that far away.

There has been much (genuine!) excitement in the motoring world about biodiesel produced from algae, as this reduces dependency on limited supplies of fossil fuel and looks to a renewable resource. Some microorganisms produce oils within them that are suitable for use as a feedstock for producing biodiesel. These algae, which include the very common Chlorella, are able to use otherwise non-productive land and rather dubious water, which solves the biggest problem with other sources of biofuels: the crops grown for biofuels, such as corn or jatropha, often compete for good soil and water with food crops, which could cause problems for world food supplies. Algae, however, can be grown in open ponds, which can be built on otherwise useless land and can use wastewater or seawater.

And the wastewater in question can be sewage, which really does include human urine. Urine contains urea, which is commonly used as a fertiliser (for example, the old remedy for lemon trees that aren’t doing well is “a gentleman standing in front of it”), and the algae thrive on this, plus the other stuff in sewage. In New Zealand, one company has successfully harvested the algae from a town’s sewage ponds and refined it to produce biodiesel. The result is known as Green Crude™.  This process has two major benefits: firstly, it provides a renewable source of biofuels; secondly, it speeds up the process of cleaning up wastewater, solving another problem.

Sweden, the home of our fictitious Løøflirpa (spell it backwards…), is a country that has a strong interest in biofuels – you only have to look at the biodiesel Volvo and Saab models to realise that. A very high proportion of their petrol stations provide biofuel or an ethanol blend, and they have Europe’s largest E85 alternative fuel fleet, thanks to some government incentives. Like our neighbours across the ditch, biofuels are being developed using sewage.

And what about here in Australia?  We have our ethanol producers, mostly using by-products of Queensland’s sugar industry. Legislation has limited ethanol blends to E10 (10% ethanol to 90% unleaded petrol) but this is changing – and the Saab 9-3 Ecotec runs on it just fine. And yes, projects to grow and harvest biodiesel are underway – find out more about it here.


In case you missed it:

Poisson de Avril – French for April Fool (literally “April Fish”)

Tonto: Spanish for “stupid”

Necio:  Spanish for fool

Majkat:  Danish equivalent of April Fool (literally “May Cat”)

Dihydrous oxide: H2O