The year is 1985. The nutty scientist Emmet “Doc” Brown returns in the second part of the Hollywood blockbuster “Back to the Future” in his very special time machine from the distant year, 2015 and meets his partner Michael J. Fox, alias Marty McFly. The highlight of the cult flying DeLorean: It runs on a very special fuel. “You drive with garbage?” – “Yes. With what else?” In this dialogue, film, science fiction and car fans cheer alike in union.
“Life Landfill Biofuel” project until 2023
Did the filmmakers of that time have any idea that they would come close to reality? In 2019 – only four years after the future predicted in the cult film – SEAT is actually working on using waste to power cars.
The Spanish subsidiary is part of a project to generate biofuel from public landfills supported by the European Commission. The “Life Landfill Biofuel” project will be developed over the next four years together with other partners and has a total budget of 4.6 million euros, of which the EU Commission will contribute 55 percent.
Offering mobility for everyone and at the same time having as little impact on the environment as possible: this is the goal pursued by the Volkswagen Group with its intensified Group TOGETHER 2025+ strategy and the environmental mission statement anchored therein. This mission statement is set out: For all products and mobility solutions, environmental impacts are to be minimized throughout the entire life cycle, i.e. from raw material extraction to the end of life. The aim is to keep ecosystems intact and create a positive impact for society. For this reason, the Group is committed to the Paris two-degree target, and Volkswagen also aims to become a CO2-neutral company by 2050.
Andrew Shepherd, responsible for SEAT’s renewable energy projects, emphasizes the importance of the project: “This project will enable us to make further progress in the development and research of biomethane as a fuel. Our primary objective is to reduce the environmental impact of CO2 emissions to zero over the entire life cycle of vehicles.”
After 30,000 kilometers, the test results will be analyzed
SEAT is also contributing its experience to the EU-funded “Life Landfill Biofuel” project, which the brand’s experts have been gathering for several months in a very similar project to reduce greenhouse gases and promote the circular economy: In the “Life Methamorphosis” project, biomethane is produced from pre-selected organic waste at the "Ecoparc 2" landfill in Barcelona.
The raw materials are filled into 26-metre high fermentation towers with a capacity of 4,500 cubic meters. Since the towers contain no oxygen, a decomposition process begins during which gases are released. After one month, biogas with a methane content of 65 percent is produced. Because the quality of the gas is not yet sufficient, it has to be refined. It is then compressed and stored until it is consumed in one of the four test vehicles. Three SEAT Leon1 and one SEAT Arona2 are currently on the road, powered by biomethane. After a distance of over 30,000 kilometers, its impact on the engine will be investigated.
The potential of “Life Methamorphosis” is considerable: if all the organic waste in “Ecoparc 2” were converted into biomethane, 3,750 SEAT Leon could travel around the world once a year. “This renewable biomethane can be the answer to some of the pressing problems we face today. For example, we can contribute to the recycling economy and reduce waste and greenhouse gases, because the production and use of biogas emits 80 percent less CO2 than burning gasoline,” Shepherd says.
That would impress not only “Doc” Brown and Marty McFly.
Of course, Solar!
The potential: No other renewable energy source delivers electricity as reliably as the sun, no other energy source is growing as fast as photovoltaics worldwide. Last year alone, systems with an output of 102 gigawatts (GW) were newly installed. According to the International Energy Agency IEA, photovoltaics will continue to be the main driver of global power generation from renewable energies in the coming years. By 2022 alone, the electricity generated from solar radiation is expected to grow by almost 580 gigawatts compared to 2017. This corresponds to around 414 average nuclear power plants.
The showcase project: Volkswagen recognized the potential of photovoltaics early on and is using the technology on a large scale, for example in Chattanooga (Tennessee). At the plant there, a 133,546 square meter solar park provides energy en-masse: with 33,600 solar modules, this is one of the largest photovoltaic systems in the USA. Each solar module has an output of 285 watts. The solar power plant thus has a total output of 9.6 megawatts.
The result: The plant in Chattanooga supplies up to 13.1 million kilowatt hours of electricity per year. In theory, the solar power plant could thus supply 1,200 households with energy. The energy, however, is consumed completely in the Chattanooga plant alone. With normal production, the solar plant covers one eighth of the electricity consumption. In non-production phases, the entire plant electricity comes from solar power.
1 SEAT Leon 1.5 TGI 96 kW (130 PS) Fuel consumption Natural gas (CNG), combined: 3.5kg/100 km; CO₂ emissions combined: 100g/km; CO₂ efficiency class: A.
2 SEAT Arona 1.0 TGI 66 kW (90 PS) Fuel consumption Natural gas (CNG), combined: 3.7kg/100 km; CO₂ emissions combined: 101g/km; CO₂ efficiency class: A.