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AgroWaste to Oil a Growing Market 472

Posted by Zonk
from the more-than-just-compost dept.
EvilTwinSkippy writes "Last May Slashdot covered the story of Changing World Tech's opening of a plant that converts agricultural waste to oil. Fortune magazine has picked up the story, and followed up on their success. Apparently the turkey guts are not as profitable to recycle as hoped, the company paying $30-$40/ton for animal offal. They are producing diesel fuel at $80/barrel (compared to $50/barrel for petroleum derived diesel). However, the plant has been successful enough to spawn ventures in Europe and the U.S. A pilot plant in Philadelphia has successfully used the process to safely break down and extract oil from sewage, medical waste, electronics, even leftovers from petroleum refining. The solids are metal, pure carbon, and fertilizer. And aside from gas and oil, the only other thing the system produces otherwise is sterile water."
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AgroWaste to Oil a Growing Market

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  • Re:Economical? (Score:4, Informative)

    by Carnildo (712617) on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @04:41PM (#11748474) Homepage Journal
    I don't know about cases like medical waste or electronics, but when it's using turkey guts or other agricultural waste as a feedstock, it is able to run itself off the natural gas produced, leaving crude oil as an energy-producing product.
  • Re:Economical? (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @04:42PM (#11748489)
    No, I wrote a report on this company last year for a college assignment. This process consumes less energy than it produces, but not enough to be economical yet. Really the only benifit from it now is disposal of organic waste as the oil produced isnt cost effective for the market yet.
  • Re:Economical? (Score:3, Informative)

    by syphax (189065) on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @04:46PM (#11748542) Journal
    From TFA: [mindfully.org]


    Thermal depolymerization, Appel says, has proved to be 85 percent energy efficient for complex feedstocks, such as turkey offal: "That means for every 100 Btus in the feedstock, we use only 15 Btus to run the process." He contends the efficiency is even better for relatively dry raw materials, such as plastics.


  • Re:Economical? (Score:5, Informative)

    by Overt Coward (19347) on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @04:46PM (#11748550) Homepage
    Yes, and no.

    No process can be 100% (or more) efficient -- the CWT process is about 80%-85% efficient. That means that the remaining energy is turned to waste, so it obviously produces less energy at the end than when it started.

    However, when looking at usable energy, the system is highly efficient. Most of the energy in the CWT comes from the energy stored in the "feedstock" (turkey guts, etc.). This is energy that would normally be slowly released as waste energy as the feedstocks decomposed. instead, this process turns that energy into useful products, primarily diesel fuel. Removing the energy from the feedstock, the process produces about 4-5 times more usable energy than it uses.

  • by syphax (189065) on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @04:50PM (#11748600) Journal
    The real problem is that there just aren't enough turkey guts in the world to replace crude oil

    Yes, but this is not a turkey-specific process. Consider, e.g., biomass (waste or otherwise). From TFA [mindfully.org]:


    Unlike other solid-to-liquid-fuel processes such as cornstarch into ethanol, this one will accept almost any carbon-based feedstock. If a 175-pound man fell into one end , he would come out the other end as 38 pounds of oil, 7 pounds of gas, and 7 pounds of minerals, as well as 123 pounds of sterilized water. While no one plans to put people into a thermal depolymerization machine, an intimate human creation could become a prime feedstock. "There is no reason why we can't turn sewage, including human excrement, into a glorious oil," says engineer Terry Adams, a project consultant. So the city of Philadelphia is in discussion with Changing World Technologies to begin doing exactly that.
  • Re:Economical? (Score:5, Informative)

    by Carnildo (712617) on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @04:52PM (#11748626) Homepage Journal
    And to make things even better, the energy the process requires comes from natural gas produced in the later stages of the thermal depolymerization process. The only energy a TDP plant needs is an initial shot of natural gas to get things going, and an electical supply for such things as controlling valves and running sensors.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @04:52PM (#11748641)
    Wrong, with this proccess you can dump everything in the same vat and it all seperates on its own. You dont have to isolate every different type of product before putting it in.
  • Re:Economical? (Score:5, Informative)

    by ThosLives (686517) on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @04:53PM (#11748647) Journal
    Yes, but so does every other process in the known universe(*). The point is that they are taking "waste" and getting use out of it. This wouldn't be a net energy "source" like drilled oil, but it would be an energy currency like hydrogen. The advantage here is that, since it is hydrocarbons they are producing, you can use it in manufacturing of plastics, etc.; hydrogen's not a useful construction resource (until metallic hydrogen [physicsweb.org] becomes practical, that is).

    With the volatility of crude oil the way it is (heck, it's gone up over 5% today!) for no logical reason (they cite "unseasonably cold weather in the northeast US and Britain" - winter is always cold, and our reserves are higher than they were last year - go figure), any other alternatives that don't require a huge infrastructure change are welcome. Producing "petroleum" from waste is potentially a great way to reduce the volatility of crude oil.

    It does nothing, though, to address the issues of using a carbon-based energy currency and the CO2 byproducts from that. It's definitely a novel idea, and the sooner we develop alternatives the better (it's a whole lot more difficult to develop alternatives when your reserves are depleted due to increased periodic costs - i.e., higher cost for crude oil).

    * As my physics prof put it: "The first law says the best you can do is break even, and the second law says you can't even come close."

  • by mkcheme (824521) on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @04:53PM (#11748652)
    He gave a talk for my organization [aiche-boston.org] a couple of months ago on his thermochemical process that converts cellulosic waste to precursor chemicals for fuels and fine chemicals. You can read a litte more on it here [aiche.org] or by googling his name and Biofine. He claims the energy inmput/output ratio is quite good--I recall in the 30-40 range--and there is a process-scale facility online in Italy with interest to build a couple in the US.
  • $80 per barrel (Score:4, Informative)

    by NaruVonWilkins (844204) on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @05:04PM (#11748801)
    The $80 per barrel number is misleading. When considering large markets, shipping oil all over the place from a root source at $80/barrel is not economically feasible. The key here is that this oil doesn't have to compete in that market. In eastern Washington State, a number of rendering plants are already doing this themselves. They don't have to ship the animal waste anywhere, so they aren't paying for it, and the oil they get it *vastly* cheaper than the diesel at the pump for their distribution. One plant I've seen also provides some electricity through a diesel generator running fuel they produce. I don't really know about the math here, but let's say you're saving $10 per barrel by not having to buy the "offal." Now you're at $70. How much overhead is put on a $50 barrel of diesel before it comes to the pump? Right now, we're seeing spot prices at $2.30 - multiplied by 55 gallons (per barrel, correct me if I'm wrong) - you get over $125. Since you're at the point of purchase already, as long as your equipment costs are less than $55/barrel, you're saving money over filling your trucks at the pump.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @05:04PM (#11748809)
    Check out http://www.biosourcefuels.com/ [biosourcefuels.com]. They claim they can make biodiesel at competitive rates (way below $80/barrel) and appear to have a pilot plant actually running and proving the technology in Montana.
  • Re:BioDesiel (Score:2, Informative)

    by NaruVonWilkins (844204) on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @05:09PM (#11748864)
    This *is* Biodiesel.
  • Re:SEWAGE! (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @05:30PM (#11749112)
    I am the Chief Operator at a Wastewater Treatment Plant in So. Maine. Last year we paid about US$67/Ton to dispose of my 1600 Ton's of Sludge ("Biosolids" in NewSpeak).

    At 3.0 Million Gal/Day (Licence numbers) we are a SMALL plant - a plant like this located in the southern 3 countys of Maine could very easly get enough sludge from WWTP's alone to keep it running 24/7/365 if sized right, undercut all current options (best cost option - direct land application at about US$40/ton) - and since it would be a "single prodect facility," tweeking/tuning is a non-issue. Make sure you have a well blended input and seasonal vareations and the odd "bad load" mean nothing. Gas spill in the lines? NP! - HomeBizGuy dumps 25 gallons of NastyStripEXL(tm) down the drain? NP! Ever had to deal with Grease Trap Cleanings? (i have - trust me, turkey offal is preferable...) NP!

    "In New England, a total of approximately 275,000 dry tons of municipal sewage sludge is produced" (according to NEBRA http://www.nebiosolids.org/how.html)

    Dewatered sludge runs from 12->40 % Solids depending on the method used to dewater it and the type of sludge. Given the water issues there and the cost of trucking (in our case) 85% water 200 miles away, i am very much looking forward to this option over the long term.

  • by Dan Ost (415913) on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @05:32PM (#11749136)
    For oil, at least.
  • Re:Economical? (Score:3, Informative)

    by Rei (128717) on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @05:40PM (#11749224) Homepage
    Actually, rereading the article, the turkey guts are costing 15-20$ of the difference. So, it's really only about 10-15$ a gallon away from normal diesel prices. Then, factor in a biofuels tax break like ethanol gets (even conventional oil companies have a number of significant tax breaks), and you're competitive. You just need a free or cheap feedstock, and even this first-generation plant will be efficient.
  • by Engineer-Poet (795260) on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @05:50PM (#11749334) Homepage Journal
    fertilizers are certainly NOT derived from petroleum
    No, they're typically derived from natural gas (steam-reform to hydrogen, Haber process combines H2 and N2 to make ammonia, ammonia is either used as-is or oxidyzed to HNO3. HNO3 is chemically combined with ammonia to make ammonium nitrate or urea to make urea nitrate).

    High natural gas prices have driven some users to petroleum fuels, so the demand for fertilizer is increasing petroleum demand even if it isn't a direct petroleum product.

    pesticides are sometimes synthesized using petroleum products (i.e., organic solvents), but I don't think that makes them petroleum-derived
    If their manufacture involves petrochemicals and their use increases the demand for oil, you might as well call them petroleum-derived.
  • by TykeClone (668449) * <TykeClone@gmail.com> on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @05:51PM (#11749347) Homepage Journal
    Forget municipal systems - go for the "gold" of sewage and process hog and cattle manure. With confinement livestock, the hardest part is to economically dispose of the contents of the manure pit.

    Waste is usually stored up for about a year so that it can be applied to fields after harvest. Because of this, I think that the manure typically has a higher content of solids than what you'd see at a municipal waste facility. Also, hogs produce a lot of manure - I think that I've read that a medium sized confinement operation would produce the same amount of waste as a city of 30,000 people.

  • Re:Economical? (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @05:52PM (#11749354)
    They claim that the methane produced from their process produces all the energy to drive their distillation process, and I think that's perpetual motion machine junk science.

    Perpetual Motion? I don't think you know what that means. They are adding TONS of turkey offal. That is where the energy is coming from. It isn't perpetual motion if you are constantly adding things (like, um, turkey offal).
  • Re:Economical? (Score:2, Informative)

    by lgw (121541) on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @06:17PM (#11749607) Journal
    The system described is not a closed system. Turkey offal contains plenty of stored energy. 15% of that stored energy is used to convert the rest into a form more easily burned.

  • by clonan (64380) on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @06:29PM (#11749735)
    Sort of but not really.

    Mad cow disease is caused by cows eating COWS (or sheep). The US has banned canabilistic feed. But remember that most diseases are species specific and by feeding turkeys to cows and cows to turkeys you prevent the spread of disease as efectivly as turning them into oil.

    But remember that by doing this you will make the cost of feed go up which will make the cost of meat go up...
  • Two Cost Factors (Score:4, Informative)

    by mdielmann (514750) on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @06:32PM (#11749758) Homepage Journal
    There are two cost factors that are really afffecting them. Remedying either or both of them could turn the tide.

    The first is their exclusion from a tax break for biodiesel. This looks like a gross oversight which they may be able to get corrected. The article mentions this as being equivalent to a $1/gal. reduction in production costs, which would be significant.

    The second is the cost of raw materials. Animal wastes are accounting for $15 to $20 per barrel. If they can source a raw material that is either free or they can charge to process, half or more of their cost difference vs. traditional diesel will be removed. The other option would be to remove the current primary market for animal byproducts, use in animal feed. This increases the viability in Europe.

    If they could get both of those changes enacted, their cost per barrel could be near zero, certainly competitive with traditional sources.
  • Re:Economical? (Score:2, Informative)

    by jthayden (811997) on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @06:43PM (#11749832)
    1 gallon of waste does not produce 1 gallon of oil. You'll likely get a majority of water produced with a much smaller fraction being natural gas and oil.
  • by tdi1 (805525) on Wednesday February 23, 2005 @01:18AM (#11752744)
    well, I Googled and found one reference that says:

    In California over 500,000 acres of rice are grown each year. Each acre produces 1-2.5 tons of rice straw which have been until now burned. Alternative methods of disposal are needed, and conversion to ethanol has been under development for several years. There are currently two projects underway proposing to use rice straw: one in California (Gridley) and one in Jennings, LA. If the Gridley project is fully implemented, it will add 25 million gallons of production to California's already-thin 9 million gallons per year. Barriers include collection costs and the high silica content (13%) of rice straw.

    Other agricultural wastes include orchard trimmings, walnut and almond shells, and food processing wastes, for a total of about 700 MGY potential if ALL agricultural wastes were used. This is, of course, impractical, as some must be returned to the soil somehow, plus collection and transport costs will have an effect on viability of a particular waste product. Agricultural waste has the potential to satisfy a significant share of demand, with many factors to be considered when proposing a bio-refinery based on any feedstock, which are determined by full life-cycle analysis.

    If 25% of the available material were used, about 175 million gallons per year could be produced.


    That's good for less than one day of the country's oil consumption.

    I still think that the technology is a great thing, since it puts all these waste products to good use, but I don't believe that, it is going to allow the U.S. to free itself from foreign oil any time in the near future.

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