Reykjavík has received its first methane-driven garbage truck, which actually runs on what it collects.
This is because the fuel it uses is worked from the city’s garbage dump.
Methane is an interesting alternative fuel, for more reasons than one.
In May of this year, the company that creates the methane, Metan Ltd., advertised that this was the cheapest source of car fuel in Iceland.
Depending on gas prices, on average it is about 30-per-cent-cheaper to buy fuel for methane-vehicles than gasoline-fuelled ones.
And that is a very attractive piece of information for Icelanders — with each litre of gas sitting at over two dollars Canadian!
The company Metan Ltd. was founded in 1999 by the Sorpa, the municipal waste management company owned by Reykjavík city and surrounding communities.
Now, one of the owners includes fuel giant Esso in Iceland, and the company belongs to the European Natural Gas Vehicle Association.
Methane is a simple hydrocarbon, a gas with a chemical formula of CH4.
Pure methane is odourless, but when used commercially is usually mixed with small quantities of odorants, strong-smelling sulphur compounds to enable the detection of leaks.
Methane is also a greenhouse gas and has 21 times more greenhouse effects than carbon dioxide if it is released untreated into the atmosphere, according to Metan’s website.
All cattle jokes aside, methane in fact occurs naturally, as the Earth’s mantle contains much of the gas, which is emitted to the atmosphere through volcanoes.
Other sources are the main constituent of biogas formed naturally by anaerobic digestion.
This is why a lot of methane gas enters the atmosphere from garbage dumps all over the world, and scientists have long pondered over it.
The use of it as a car fuel seems to be particularly attractive; many countries have been doing this for a few decades.
New Zealand has four methane fuelling stations, with the first one built in 1970. The US built its first one in 1984, but it’s unlikely that the country’s four stations can supply many Americans with methane.
Switzerland has four stations, with the first one appearing in 1985. The Dutch built their first one in 1987 and now there are five stations in that country.
Five exist in the Czech Republic, with the first one built in 1988. The Swedes built their first in 1991 and now have eight stations, while France has three stations, starting in 1994.
And it’s likely that these stations will continue to multiply.
When one thinks about pollution, vehicles that run on methane are clearly a much better choice than gasoline cars.
According to Metan, the CO2 emitted from 113,000 methane cars is equivalent to the CO2 emitted from only 1,000 cars that run on gasoline.
And they seem to be pretty safe, too.
According to Metan, there are no known incidents of accidents caused by methane used as a fuel for cars.
At least 47 vehicles run on methane now in Iceland, including a couple of privately owned family cars.
And while that’s not a whole lot compared to the 104,000 cars that exist in the capital area, their number is increasing.
Most of them run on both methane and gasoline, but a few, including the garbage truck and a couple of city buses, run only on methane.
The garbage collection truck is much quieter than traditional diesel trucks, and leaves 80-per-cent less soot pollution, along with 60-per-cent less nitrogen pollution.
So the city, that operates 10 garbage trucks for its 115,000 inhabitants, intends to use only methane-run garbage trucks within the next few years.
Furthermore, the state gives owners of methane-fuelled vehicles a discount on taxes and other regular fees, which makes these vehicles a very attractive choice for companies that rely on transportation, such as the Icelandic post office.
So, what are the problems?
Well, the single largest problem with methane is that one is tied to Reykjavík, as the only methane fuel station is located there.
But Metan, as the only methane gas fuel producer in Iceland, hopes to soon fix that problem.
Another foreseeable problem is that the methane factory at the Reykjavík city dump can only create methane for 50 to 60 medium-sized family cars, so it is quite likely that Metan will have to solve this issue sooner than later.
And if and when they do, we’ll be watching!