A Seriously Fast Poop-Powered Bus Could Help End Our Greenhouse Gas Problem

The methane in cow dung can be turned into an effective fuel.

(Photo: Reading Buses/Facebook)

May 26, 2015· 1 MIN READ
Culture and education editor Liz Dwyer has written about race, parenting, and social justice for several national publications. She was previously education editor at Good.

Thanks to the eco-friendly efforts of dozens of cities, if Hollywood ever gets around to remaking the hit 1994 film Speed, Keanu Reeves’ character, LAPD officer Jack Traven, might be driving a bus that runs on something other than gasoline. But while electric-powered vehicles are a green alternative, a public motor coach in the U.K. is breaking land-speed records while being fueled by a seriously stinky substance: cow manure.

Last week the “Bus Hound,” a regular service bus that operates in Reading, England, about an hour west of London, hit a top speed of 76.785 miles per hour—all while being powered by the bovine waste material.

“It sounded like a Vulcan bomber. The aerodynamics aren’t designed for going 80 mph,” John Bickerton, the chief engineer at Reading Buses, told BBC News.

The top speed the black-and-white-painted bus normally can travel at is about 56 miles per hour. The experiment, which took place at a local track, was part of an effort from the bus company to prove to the public that something that runs on poop isn’t sluggish and gross.

“We wanted to get the image of bus transport away from being dirty, smelly, and slow. We’re modern, fast, and at the cutting edge of innovation,” said Bickerton. Indeed, the name is an homage to the Bloodhound SSC, an experimental jet- and rocket-powered car that’s being designed to travel at 1,000 miles per hour.

The bus operators don’t just toss cow patties straight from a farm into a fuel tank. Instead, the dung is collected, and the methane the animal poop emits is trapped and turned into a biogas. The biogas is then refined into liquefied biomethane—a product that can power cars, trucks, buses—and farms.

So, Why Should You Care? Along with reducing our dependency on fossil fuels, using cow manure as fuel could help slow down the warming of the planet. When the poop is left on the ground, it emits methane—one of the greenhouse gases that climatologists are most concerned about.

There are roughly 88 million cattle on farms in the United States, and the EPA estimates that overall, agriculture-related manure generates about 12 percent of the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions. Although that’s a relatively small percentage compared with the amount of carbon dioxide being put into the atmosphere by vehicles, methane’s greenhouse effect is about 20 times more potent. Meanwhile, according to an estimate from Sustainable Conservation, the amount of biogas generated from the cow poop just from farms in California is estimated to be able to power more than 100,000 vehicles.

So far there's no word on whether any other cities will try to break this new cow-poop-powered-bus record. However, the bus company is eager for a little competition. "We've laid down a challenge for other bus operators to best our record," said Bickerton.