Cow poop and chicken droppings? You might not expect to find those among the fuel sources automakers are tinkering with. But BMW is among a number of automakers harnessing the power of biowaste—not to power its cars, but the factories that build them.
The Bavarian carmaker’s Rosslyn factory near Pretoria, South Africa, gets about a quarter of its electricity from a nearby biogas plant and has for over two years now. The waste comes from area cattle farms, chicken coops, and the three million residents of greater Tshwane. (Never heard of it? It’s Pretoria’s metropolitan region, and it has about the population of the city of Chicago in an area ten times as large.)
Here in the United States, BMW’s plant in Spartanburg, South Carolina, draws even more of its power from methane gas, piped in from a landfill about 10 miles away. Two on-site turbines generate nearly half of the factory’s energy requirements, reducing its footprint by 92,000 tons of CO2 (and its electric bill by $3.5 million) each year.
A Different Kind of Eco-Rivalry
The EPA ranks the Spartanburg plant among the 10 greenest on-site power-generation facilities in the United States—ahead of GM’s biogas station in Warren, Michigan, and Volkswagen’s solar park in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
The factory also boasts the world’s largest fleet of hydrogen-powered machinery: 350 forklifts, tuggers, and material trains humming around the body shops, paint shops, and assembly halls, all running on hydrogen fuel cells. And the 24,000-square-foot museum next door? It’s juiced by solar power, with enough left over to supply three public EV-charging stations outside.
Measures like these help BMW draw 63 percent of its energy requirements worldwide from renewable sources. At a recent United Nations Climate Change Conference, the automaker declared its goal to increase that number to 100 percent by 2020. The manufacturer recently installed wind turbines at its new battery farm in Leipzig, Germany. It’s considering doing the same for Spartanburg, along with adding solar panels (like those already in place at its U.S. headquarters in Woodcliff Lake, New Jersey).
The rest of its North American energy requirements draw from hydroelectric and nuclear power, as well as from coal and natural gas. To meet its goal of 100 percent renewable energy, BMW has three years to replace those sources. Better call up more chickens and cows.