Business

How BMW will turn cow dung into cars

2015-11-01 15:37

BMW’s car assembly plant in South Africa is doing its bit to help the German car maker edge towards a global target to supply all its production with renewable energy: It’s getting some of its power from cow manure.

The company has agreed to a 10-year deal to buy as much as 4.4 megawatts of electricity from a biogas plant about 80km from its factory northwest of Pretoria.

Surrounded by land where about 30 000
cattle graze, the operation runs off gas emitted by a fetid mixture of dung and organic waste, ranging from sour yogurt to discarded dog food.

The deal with Bio2Watt, the closely held company that operates the power plant, was struck to bring Munich-based BMW a step closer to its renewable target, according to its South African spokesperson, Diederik Reitsma.

When ramped up to full capacity, the biogas facility will represent 25% to 30% of the electricity consumption at BMW’s factory, said Reitsma.

“We are a big consumer, so that’s a lot,” he said.

“It’s waste no longer wasted.”

BMW already buys about 51% of its energy from renewable energy sources, according to the company.

In South Africa, the car maker might consider other clean-energy sources, including solar for the Rosslyn, Pretoria, factory, which was BMW’s first foreign plant when it was established locally in 1973.

The facility produces more than 60 000
3-Series sedans a year for local and export markets, and produced its 1 millionth vehicle in February.

For local food and waste companies, supplying the station is a convenient and environmentally friendly way to get rid of organic waste that the government is seeking to divert from landfills.

The plant also receives waste from several large food companies, according to Bio2Watt chief executive officer Sean Thomas.

“You are looking at about 500 tons of waste coming on to the site every day being processed at the plant,” said Thomas.

“A lot of the consultants, the waste companies, are knocking on the door.”

Fresh manure

At full production, the Bio2Watt plant will get daily manure deliveries – “as fresh as possible”, according to Thomas – of about 160 tons.

The site’s other primary feedstock is paper sludge from the local unit of US toilet paper maker Kimberly-Clark.

The rest is a hodgepodge of fruit and vegetable leftovers, fat from restaurants, abattoir waste, yogurt, dog food and expired carbonated drinks.

While BMW is buying power generated at the biogas plant, the energy will be fed into the local grid owned and operated by Eskom, which will then connect to the motor plant via the City of Tshwane’s electricity distribution network.

Tshwane will facilitate the billing process.

The reliance on the local power grid meant Bio2Watt could not guarantee security of energy supply to BMW if Eskom scheduled blackouts in the area, Thomas said.

Eskom, which supplies about 95% of the country’s electricity, imposed load shedding through winter this year as the utility carried out maintenance at its ageing plants after years of underinvestment.

And the stench?

After some time at the site, “you don’t smell it any more”, said Thomas, who visits the project at least once a week.

“The problem is if you go to a meeting. Afterwards, it’s in your clothes, it’s in everything,” he said. – Bloomberg

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September 15 2019