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Alive 7

    There's oil in that there crap!

Maybe George Bush should read this before his next Middle-eastern adventure.
If  the  process described in the article below works as  advertised,  there
really  isn't  any need to worry about sending heavily  armed  marines  over
there anymore,  as all the oil he might ever need, can be found a lot closer
to home! One can hope anyway.  - CiH, June '03


An  experimental  recycling plant in Philadelphia is turning  waste  from  a
nearby turkey factory into gas and oil. It could, in theory, convert any old
kind of rubbish into fuel. Jerome Burne reports.

The Guardian Thursday May 22, 2003

How about this for a ridiculous modern myth. There is a machine somewhere in
America that can take virtually any sort of waste - offal from an  abattoir,
old tyres,  junked computers - and turn it into high quality oil,  plus pure
minerals and clean water,  all in a few hours. It is an invention that could
change  the  world.  Not  only might it end the west's,  and  in  particular
America's,  dependence  on  imported  oil,  but  it has also  the  potential
simultaneously to solve the increasingly pressing problem of waste disposal.

A fantasy along with the everlasting light bulb,  the car that runs on water 
and the perpetual motion machine, right? Well, no.

An   experimental  unit  that  uses  a  technique  known  as  the   "thermal 
depolymerisation process"(TDP) that can recycle seven tonnes of waste a day 
into gas and oil has been running for three years in Philadelphia.  A scaled
up version is due to open in Carthage,  Missouri next month.  It is designed
to transform 200 tonnes of guts,  beaks, blood and bones a day from a nearby
turkey processing plant into 10 tonnes of gas and 600 barrels of oil.

This  is  not  being funded by some eccentric  billionaire.  The  impressive
results   from  the  Philadelphia  plant  convinced  the  US   environmental
protection  agency to put up $14.5m to fund four more plants,  while private
investors  are backing the Missouri plant to the tune of $40m.  The company,
Changing  World  Technologies,  has also acquired such powerful  friends  as
James  Woolsey,  former  CIA  director,  and Alf Andreassen,  former science
adviser  to George Bush.  It's worth mentioning such well-connected  backers
because,  says chief executive officer Brian Appel:  "When people first hear
about us they always say they don't believe it."

Trials  at  the Philadelphia pilot project have given the engineers  a  good
idea of what different feedstocks would produce.

For instance,  a 175lb (79kg) man could,  theoretically,  yield 38lb of oil, 
7lb of gas,  7lb of minerals and carbon and 123lb of sterilised water.  More 
practically,  100lb (45kg) of sewage becomes 26lb (11kg) of oil, 9lb of gas, 
8lb  of  minerals  and carbon and 57lb of water.  Medical  waste,  generally 
regard  as tricky to dispose of,  is particularly valuable - its  equivalent 
yields are 65, 10, 5 and 20.

Philadelphia  council is planning to give this value-added treatment to  its
sewage  and  there  are also plans to handle chicken  offal  and  manure  in
Alabama and pork and cheese waste in Italy.

The company envisions a large chunk of the world's agricultural,  industrial
and  municipal waste going through TDP recycling plants all over the  globe.
"You  are not only cleaning up waste:  you are talking about the distributed 
generation of oil all over the world" says Michael Roberts, an engineer with
the Gas Technology Institute.

Changing World say that converting all of the US agricultural waste into oil
and  gas  would yield the energy equivalent of 4bn barrels of  oil,  roughly
equal to the volume of US oil imports in 2001.  So oil tankers might soon go
the way of the tea clipper.

Transforming  waste  into energy is an old vision and there have  been  many
attempts  at  it but only a few minor successes,  such as the production  of
ethanol from cornstarch. All suffer from two big flaws.

They  can only handle a few different types of "feedstock" and they  usually
generate  only  a  little more energy than they use.  "The only  thing  this
process  can't handle is nuclear waste," says Appel.  "If it contains carbon
we can do it."

TDP  is  said  to  be 85% efficient - that is,  only 15% of  the  energy  it 
produces goes to fuelling the process.

The initial estimate of the cost of the oil from the Missouri plant is $15 a
barrel. The "lifting" price - how much it costs to get oil out of the ground
is very cheap in the Persian Gulf, around a dollar a barrel, while from Gulf
of Mexico, North Sea or Alaska the "lifting" price is $8-12.

So  a price of $15 a barrel for this technology is high but  Appel  predicts
his prices will come down to $10 in a few years, making them comparable with
a medium-size oil exploration and production company.

"The  oil that comes out is very light," says Appel.  "It is essentially the 
same mix as half fuel oil, half gasoline."

Environmental  legislation seems to be running in TDP's favour.  Last month,
tougher  emissions  standards  were set for diesel in the  US,  prompting  a
switch to the type of low-sulphur fuel that Changing World produces.  The US
is  expected to ban recycling of abattoir waste into animal feed soon.  That
could well launch TDP big-time.

Making  the switch is going to take a long time,  but experts reckon it  can
make  the oil industry cleaner and more profitable.  The process can  handle
heavy  crude,  shale  and tar sands - generally considered not to  be  cost-
effective  - as well as heavy solid waste left over from normal refining.  A
modified version could also be used to pre-treat coal, extracting a range of
minerals and leaving the residue to burn hotter and more cleanly.

Although  trial  results have been impressive,  the technology has to  prove
itself  at the new Missouri plant.  There are a few sceptical voices.  "Once 
they  are  producing  something  as valuable as they  say  they  are,"  says
Professor   Robert  Brown  of  the  Center  for  Sustainable   Environmental
Technologies  at  Iowa State University,  "people aren't going to give  dead 
chickens to them any more."

Where there's muck there's the recycler works

Turning  organic  waste into oil is a trick the earth  perfected  long  ago.
Applying  pressure  and heat to the decaying remains of plants  and  animals
transforms their long chains of hydrogen,  oxygen and carbon into the short-
chain  hydrocarbons that make up oil.  But while the earth takes millions of 
years, TDP takes a few hours.

The principles remain the same,  however,  and no fancy new technologies are
involved.  In fact most of the pressure tanks and reactor vessels the system
uses are available off the shelf.

What  allows  TDP  to succeed where others fail is the way  it  handles  the
volumes of water found in most organic waste.

Feedstock  is  first  ground into slurry and heated  under  pressure,  which
breaks  down  some of the long carbon chains.  Then it flows into  a  "flash
vessel" where a dramatic drop in pressure removes much of the water far more 
efficiently than boiling it off.

Minerals  settle  out at this stage and the remaining organic soup  is  then
heated in "coke ovens" to break any remaining chains before the end products
oil, gas, water and carbon - are drawn off from a distillation column.

The "coke oven" heats the organic soup to about 900F (480C) turning it  into
a  vapour.  What  happens  next is just the same as what goes on in  an  oil 
refinery,  or  indeed  in  a  whiskey  still.  The vapour  flows  into  tall
containers,  known  as  distillation  columns,  where the various  molecules
separate  out  - the lightest molecules rising to the top and  the  heaviest
sinking  to the bottom.  So the gas is drawn off from the top,  the oils are
removed  from  the  middle and the powdered carbon is  taken  out  from  the

The  gas,  expensive  to transport,  is used to power the process,  while the
oil,  minerals  and carbon are sold off.  The calcium and magnesium produced
from the turkey waste, for instance, make a perfect fertilizer.

                    - End! -

Alive 7