Hamilton, Ontario will become the first Canadian municipality to produce biofuel from human waste after getting a $30 million grant. The technology has been in use in Europe for decades, and allows methane gas to be harvested from human waste.
The biofuel that will soon be produced from human waste in Hamilton Ontario will be used to power Hamilton's waste and water vehicles. The city expects that once the project is running, Hamilton will save $1 million a year on fuel costs. In a project description obtained from The City of Hamilton's Public Affairs Coordinator, Kelly Anderson, the city treats sewage for some 480,000 customers. The project is anticipated to contribute to Hamilton's sustainability initiative.
A Canadian company had been working on developing the technology to harvest gases from human waste since 2006, and has successfully been implementing its technology in various contracted projects. Hamilton is not the first city in North America to take advantage of biofuels made from the human waste stream -- San Antonio, Texas was apparently the first city to take advantage of the situation. The potential is never-ending under current sewage systems. For example, a city the size of Windsor, Ontario, with a population over 208,000 people, produced and treated around 54,000,000 cubic meters of sewage in 2007 -- at one plant alone. Hamilton has a population of over 490,000 people (as per 2001 census data).
The technology has been used in European cities for decades now, although the North American public is only just learning about the possibilities. There are many benefits to be had by capturing the methane from the human waste stream. First and foremost is that there will be less methane released into the atmosphere. Methane is said to have a larger role to play in global warming. The second benefit is that the biofuels will not be made from crops. Currently, mainstream biofuels being developed in North America, such as ethanol, rely upon maize or other crops. This practice has earned criticism because the production of corn-based biofuels means land is taken out use for food production, which has wide-reaching implications for the world. Indeed, higher food prices have been linked to the dedication of agricultural food land to the production of biofuels. Touted as a viable alternative to fossil fuels by some proponents, the production of biofuels is also linked to continuing environmental degradation.