Barcelona buses go green as biogas plan unveiled

Barcelona buses

"Autobus 56 al Passeig de Gràcia (5/9)" (CC BY 2.0) by _nur

Barcelona buses could soon be running on biogas made from sewage sludge under plans to turn the city’s public transport system into a more sustainable enterprise. Around 900 buses run through Barcelona at rush-hour every day and the full fleet of 1,100 buses relies heavily on fossil fuels to function. 

A new initiative has been started to address the usage, with a pilot project launched to produce biomethane from sewage sludge. Biomethane is a renewable natural gas, already used by many major retailers to try and negate the effect of their heavy delivery schedules. 

This plan is part of The Nimbus Project, which receives part of its funding from the European Union. Its aims include the encouragement of a circular economy, that in their case begins with greener public transport. 

According to reports put together by TMB, which is Barcelona buses main public transport operator, 70 per cent of its fleet ran on diesel fuel in 2010. A decade later, around 75 per cent of the buses were hybrid or running on less-polluting energy. While this is a large improvement, it is still falling short of the EU’s commitment for over 30% of energy consumption for transport to come from renewable energy sources by 2030.

“This is about using bioproducts, which already exist in the atmosphere and giving them a new life,” said TMB depot supervisor Angel Olmo.

“Recycling gases that are already in the atmosphere. And if they can be used to power these buses, then it’s the right thing to do”.

The process will work by gathering sewage sludge at water treatment plants. Water purifying processes generate the sludge and that in turn creates the biogas whch is made up of methane and CO2. This is currently stored and then burnt off at a later stage to help power the plant. 

Under the new Nimbus Project when it begins in March, CO2 from the biogas will be removed to create biomethane and compressed to make fuel for the Barcelona buses. Not everyone is on board with biogas buses, however.

Adrian Fernandez, head of mobility at Greenpeace, argues it still relies on our ability to generate waste.

“Even though it is an alternative to alleviate CO2 emissions generated by public transport, we don’t think it is a solution that could be generalised to the whole fleet of buses because there is not enough waste.

And, of course, the alternative of generating more waste in order to generate more methane is out of the question”.

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Written by

Claire Gordon