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This Gas Engine Passes the Smell Test. Watch Baratunde Thurston Find Out How it Works

Earlier this year, a Brazilian landfill started using three massive Jenbacher gas engines to burn methane produced by rotting garbage. They now generate enough electricity to power 13,000 homes.

A few thousand miles north, in the United States, more Jenbachers, which are made by GE in the Austrian town of Jenbach, are gorging on biogas from cheese whey, brewery waste water and even old school lunches. Over in Europe, their kin are feasting on gas from whisky mash, and in Cambodia on biogas from discarded rice hulls.


The gas, which is mostly methane, is produced by microbes during anaerobic digestion (see the graphic above). It can contain impurities like sulfur, which make it smell like, well, farts. But the engines’ strong stomachs don’t mind. The latest and most efficient version of the Jenbacher, the J920 FleXtra, can be more than 90 percent efficient in converting gas to energy when combined with a heating plant.

Since the 20-cylinder engine can ramp up to full power in just 5 minutes, it is already helping the Bavarian town of Rosenheim blend intermittent renewable power from solar and wind farms into the grid. Six more will be soon on their way to South-Central Texas, where they will supply peak power to 17,000 customers.

The science-minded comedian Baratunde Thurston recently traveled to Jenbach and Rosenheim to find out how exactly the big engines work. He came back with a Jenbacher masterclass (above and below). Don’t miss it!


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