Say you’re a small town looking to add some green energy options to your city. You could invest in good old wind or solar power, or in the case of one Spanish town, you could just ask your citizens to flush their toilets. That’s the concept behind Chiclana de la Frontera’s sewage treatment plant, which is the world’s first plant that will be used to convert sewage into renewable biofuel.
Using wastewater and sunlight, the plant creates an algae biofuel that can be used to run vehicles. Carbon dioxide produces an algae biomass that is then converted into gas. The plant produced its first batch of algae recently, but once out of the pilot phase, the plant should be able to produce enough fuel to run 200 cars annually. On top of creating clean fuel, the plant is also cheaper than a conventional sewage plant, making it doubly good for the town.
In order to create the fuel, the plant requires a lot of land — about 10 football fields when all is said and done — and a lot of sunshine. Chiclana de la Frontera fits the bill perfectly because of its sunny location and abundant land. Other cities in southern Spain have their eye on the project, and at least 300 other small towns have been identified that would also be ideal sites for a plant.
The project is known as All-gas, and its owner, a company named Aqualia, is the third largest private water company in the world. The company is betting that investing in environmentally friendly business will help fill the gap left by the construction downturn in the wake of the economic recession. The European Union has financed three-fifths of the project in order to test out the potential for algae power.
images from All-gas and Dan X. O’Neil