It is commonly known that natural gases – which include methane – are the preferred alternative source of energy over the more environmentally damaging gasoline and diesel fuels. Around 60% of the world’s methane emissions come from anthropogenic sources like agriculture, coal mines, landfills, as well as natural gas and oil systems. China, Russia, and the United States are estimated to be among the countries with the highest methane emissions mostly coming from coal and oil production as well as landfills. However, as far as powering motor vehicles, methane powered cars are not without challenges.
Kermit the Frog once said, “It’s not easy being green.” Although he probably did not have cars in mind, nothing can be more fitting than those words to describe the struggle that the car industry has faced in introducing more earth-friendly alternatives. Almost 75% of the world’s car industry still rely on fossil fuels. However, with more studies and evidence piling up calling for cleaner and more sustainable sources of energy, and gas prices that continue to go nowhere but up, it will not be long until methane powered cars and other alternative sources of energy are utilized in place of fossil fuels.
The Beginning of Natural Gas Vehicles
During World War I and World War II, gasoline shortage was felt worldwide. This prompted the use of “Gas Bag” vehicles in France, Netherlands, Germany, and England – cars that are basically powered through the by-products of turning coal into cokes (an iron ingredient) which are then captured and encased in balloons usually carried on top of the vehicle. It was France which promoted the usage of gas cylinders during WWII that allowed the use of a smaller tank and get better mileage. However, this proved more expensive and dangerous. Despite the obvious danger, the “gas bag” vehicle remained in use in China up the 1990’s as a means for cheaper public transportation.
The Methane Powered Car
In 2010, a team of British engineers came together and designed the “Dung” Beetle, a Volkswagen that runs on – as the name implies – methane gas from human waste and sewage works. This methane powered car runs like any other vehicle – except when you check the fuselage. It is said to be capable to run for 10,000 miles or the equivalent of one motoring year at speeds up to 114 mph.
How does methane powered car work? It is simple. The car is initially started on unleaded petrol, but makes an automatic switch to methane gas once the engine reaches a certain temperature. If the methane gas runs out, no worries. The car likewise automatically reverts to petrol.
GENeco, the company that funded the “Dung” Beetle or Bio-Bug endeavor, hopes to revolutionize the motoring industry by this offering claiming that drivers will not know the difference in terms of performance. It is supposed to drive like a conventional car with less carbon footprint in the environment.
Other Countries Joining the Biogas Bandwagon
Over the years, the following countries have introduced the commercial use of natural gas: Argentina, Brazil, China, Egypt, India, Italy, Pakistan, Ukraine, USA, and Venezuela. In early 2013, German automaker Audi announced it is building a power plant to make methane that will power 1,500 of Audi’s natural gas vehicle line. The outlook for more future methane powered vehicles is indeed looking very promising.