Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Reading: English Town to Adopt Biogas Buses.

Reading is the town where I live, in the south east of England, and is famous for the three Bs that used to be produced here - beer, bulbs and biscuits - and probably also for its gaol, famously written about by Oscar Wilde, in "The Ballad of Reading Gaol." The latter is an epic poem, about a prisoner being hanged for murder, and written by Wilde during his exile in France. Wilde's downfall was brought about by an ill-considered private prosecution that he issued against The Marquis of Queensbury, who devised the Queensbury Rules of British boxing, and was also the father of Lord Alfred Douglas ("Bosie"), Wilde's lover.

The law suit against Queensbury was provoked by his leaving a card at Wilde's club, with the words penned, "For Oscar Wilde, posing as somdomite" (the misspelling is Queensbury's, not mine). However, the tables were turned on Wilde, and in the case then brought against him, he was convicted of gross indecency and served two years hard labour in Reading Gaol. On his release, Wilde left for France, where he spent his last few years in dissolution, finally dying of cerebral meningitis, aged just 46. Wilde was a brilliant writer, and it is ironic that it was the judgement of his novel, "A Picture of Dorian Gray", as an "immoral book" that precipitated an inquisition into Wilde's own moral character.

Reading is more recently in the headlines since it's local authority has ordered 20 new buses which run on methane: both compressed natural gas, and biogas generated from cattle manure and food waste. The vehicles are 12 m (39 ft) in length and carry 40 passengers, and are fitted with a gas tank on the roof to hold the methane. The outlay for the buses is £3.5 million ($5.6 million) but their running costs are less, and they are quieter than are conventional diesel buses. The ride is said to be smoother too.

The bio-gas component of the fuel is to be supplied from a farm in Sussex - which is relatively local, especially as compared, say, with importing gas from Qatar or Russia - and it is better from an environmental standpoint to convert manure and food waste to methane in a biodigester, rather than simply letting it rot and release greenhouse gases (methane and carbon dioxide) into the atmosphere. Reading is by no means the first town anywhere to adopt "green" buses that run on methane, since there are many such examples in Europe and in the wider world, e.g. the town of Augsburg in Germany, whose buses all run on compressed natural gas.

According to a life cycle analysis (LCA),-study-finds.html for city of Kaunas, in Lithuania, where 60% of transportation is public, compressed biogas powered buses were found to cause the least environmental damage, when the entire fuel chain is accounted for, mainly because the gas is produced by a local wastewater treatment plant, as compared with non-renewable inputs like imported crude oil and natural gas. As part of an overall European aim to make public transport sustainable, and to reduce the number of cars on the roads, the energy requirements and impacts on human health, ecosystems and resources were taken into account. The "well-to-wheel" cycles -  extraction, transportation, production, distribution and use - were compared for buses running on diesel, compressed natural gas, compressed (locally sourced) biogas and trolleybuses powered by electricity generated from natural gas or from heavy fuel oil.

As expected, there was some variation, according to the type of vehicle and the source of the fuel, and it was found that buses running on compressed biogas consumed the most fuel (although their emissions are of biological origin), while the smallest consumption was from trolleybuses that ran on electricity generated from natural gas. Most significantly, it was found that rather than using natural gas directly as a fuel, it was almost twice as energy-efficient to instead generate electricity from it first to power trolleybuses.

Other salient conclusions are that:

• While similar emissions occur from buses running on compressed natural gas or compressed biogas, the levels of carbon dioxide are greater as emitted from compressed biogas buses (albeit that this is of biological origin) than from compressed natural gas buses.

 • The greatest ecosystem damage was found to result from emissions of greenhouse gases from buses powered by compressed natural gas.

• High levels of particulates, nitrogen oxides and carbon monoxide emitted from diesel buses pose the greatest threat to human health.

It is concluded that while LCA is a useful approach by which to plan for public transport in urban areas, its input parameters must be adapted to meet the particular characteristics of each city or town.

In the case of Reading, the new biogas buses may be perceived as part of the Reading Climate Change  Partnership scheme, which intends to substantially reduce carbon emissions across the town by 2020


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Petroglyph said...

The article, once it gets to the buses, is sound. The Oscar Wilde story, though a very important story in its own right, ought to have had a simple link, to a full article.
As it is, it makes a piss poor introduction to what was presented as an alternative fuels article about Reading buses.