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AgroWaste to Oil a Growing Market 472

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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  • Economical? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by ( 861779 ) <> on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @04:37PM (#11748425) Homepage
    Doesn't this process consume more energy than it produces?
  • good (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @04:39PM (#11748449)
    at least we know there will be a cap of $80 usd for the barrel of oil.
  • Cost (Score:3, Insightful)

    by nickirelan ( 775855 ) <> on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @04:39PM (#11748458)
    It would be a great idea if it was cheaper. Maybe other natural ingredients will help bring the price down.
  • It's a start. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Sheetrock ( 152993 ) on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @04:42PM (#11748496) Homepage Journal
    I've got a friend that was working on biodiesel development at the uni. At the moment it doesn't appear profitable, although only because we don't factor in the cost of diminishing resources and environmental pollution as costs, but as petroleum becomes scarcer alternative methods of energy reclaimation will look better and better (especially when we get to the point of getting more out than we're putting in.)

    I think it's important that we research these alternatives now. There are certain uses for petroleum that we can't reproduce via other means -- powering our cars and homes isn't one of them.

  • Re:Cost (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Carnildo ( 712617 ) on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @04:44PM (#11748523) Homepage Journal
    Oil prices are rising. A 50% rise is sufficient to make this profitable, and in the mean time, it's a good way to get rid of hard-to-handle wastes like worn-out tires and used motor oil.
  • mad cow, anyone? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Whumpsnatz ( 451594 ) on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @04:45PM (#11748528)
    "feeding animals to animals remains standard practice in the U.S"

    Really stupid. If politicians weren't in the pocket of industry, this would be outlawed. Make that OUTLAWED! Then, maybe the slaughterhouses would be _paying_ to have the offal disposed of - and not by dumping it anywhere they own a piece of land, either.

    Voila! Suddenly the product becomes directly competitive with petroleum.
  • by Tackhead ( 54550 ) on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @04:49PM (#11748593)
    "OMG, they're TURKEYS!"
    (God as my witness, I honestly thought turkeys could fly.)

    The problem with the process, as I read the article, is that while thermal depolymerization may scale for any one particular type of waste, no single TD process works as well for all types of waste.

    If you're already running a turkey plant, it may be economical to spend $1M to render down turkey guts into $1.1M worth of oil. (Spend time in phase 1 than in phase 2.)

    If you're already running a tire dump, it may be economical to spend $1M for the same plant, with the dials set differently, to render used automobile tyres into $1.1M worth of oil. (Spend more time in phase 2 than phase 1.)

    The problem is that the process isn't continuous and efficient for all input waste types, such that not worth spending $100M for a really big plant to render 3000 incoming truckloads of raw organic matter into $110M worth of oil, because you can't. You have to separate the truckloads of "stuff with carbon in it" into piles of cow/pig/turkey bones, human bits from hospitals, raw sewage, chickenshit, pigshit, spammer, plastic bottles, used tires, and run different processes to get the most valuable materials out of each of the three waste streams.

    Neat idea for small and medium businesses with a uniform waste stream. Not gonna change the world.

  • Produces? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by iminplaya ( 723125 ) on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @04:52PM (#11748635) Journal
    And aside from gas and oil, the only other thing the system produces otherwise is sterile water.

    The thing will never get off the ground unless it produces some money.
  • Re:Medical waste? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Rosco P. Coltrane ( 209368 ) on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @04:55PM (#11748679)
    Wouldn't it be truly ironic if the medical waste was liposuction fat (think Fight Club)? Then, the clinical obesity afflicting one in three Americans would itself be powering the automobiles that are, in part, responsible for the obesity.

    So what you mean is, we should power our vehicles with our own body fat?

    I know a more efficient way: it's called "cycling".
  • by homer_ca ( 144738 ) on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @05:10PM (#11748866)
    There's a lot of spare agricultural capacity out there. Something like 70% of all U.S. farmland is used to grow livestock feed. Cheap hamburgers aren't that important to me. Also, biodiesel doesn't have to come from food crops. We can get biodiesel from algae that grows in salt water and ethanol from cellulosic plant waste (basically straw and plant stalks). Even with soybeans, there's plenty of nutritious stuff left over after you've extracted the oil.
  • Re:BioDesiel (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Abcd1234 ( 188840 ) on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @05:24PM (#11749035) Homepage
    Dude, these are complimentary technologies. BioDiesel and AgroWaste-based hydrocarbons both provide the same benefit: a closed carbon cycle. The only technical difference is BioDiesel is a glorified way of harnessing solar energy, while AgroWaste-oil provides a way to reclaim energy that's tied up in materials that would otherwise go to the landfill.

    Moreover, I believe AgroWaste-oil can be used in polymer production, something not true of BioDiesel.

    Seriously... what's with the black-and-white world view?
  • by Torontoman ( 829262 ) on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @05:26PM (#11749061)
    It is however, quite more likely that we've reached peak oil pricing, and production will increase to bring down the price.
  • by Dan Ost ( 415913 ) on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @05:28PM (#11749084)
    No one technology is going to change the world. We're way past that. However,
    this will become one of many tools at our disposal that will help us deal
    with our energy consumption habits.
  • by Engineer-Poet ( 795260 ) on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @05:29PM (#11749106) Homepage Journal
    I ran into a page that cited 12 cents per gallon as the cost for treating regular community sewage at a processing plant.
    If the typical person uses 50 gallons/day of water and flushes it down the drain, that's $6/person/day or $360/person/month. Water bills typically include sewage, and run a small fraction of that. Nope, doesn't pass first inspection.

    This might be reasonable if you are talking about sewage solids, but that's a small fraction of most sewage and I'd want you to confirm your source and its accuracy before I took it seriously.

    That says, CWT did mention that they can process things such as grease-trap waste (cooking grease, mostly). With the amount of grease produced in big cities and the disposal costs in landfills, it appears that the natural place for CWT to build their next plant isn't near rural poultry plants, but Manhattan. All they'd have to do is undercut the cost of trucking the stuff to New Jersey and they'd have all the feedstock a 400 bbl/day plant could handle, and probably much more.

  • by Engineer-Poet ( 795260 ) on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @05:32PM (#11749135) Homepage Journal
    ... make that $180/person/month.
  • Re:Economical? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by arivanov ( 12034 ) on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @05:33PM (#11749140) Homepage
    80$ per barrel is still considerably less then the retail price of diesel in the UK and many other countries. This is due to the tax on diesel. In most of these countries the tax on renewable fuel is lower and the removal of agricultural waste is more expensive as well, so it may end up being economically feasible.

    So numbers which do not add up in the US may in fact add up nicely in the UK, Japan or some of the European countries. And from what I read in the article this is exactly what the company is planning to do. To go onto the right side of the ocean for this kind of technology (from a regulatory and economical perspective).
  • Tax credits (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Engineer-Poet ( 795260 ) on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @05:42PM (#11749250) Homepage Journal
    If I understand the law correctly, the biodiesel initiative allows $.50/gallon for biodiesel made from waste oil. If biofuel made from any waste matter qualified, CWT's plants could collect $22/barrel.

    I'm not sure if this is a good thing. Subsidies usually result in overproduction and overconsumption, financed by the taxpayer. If we want to "fix" the problem, let's tax petroleum to pay for all the defense costs of the oil shipping routes instead of the taxpayer paying more for other things.

  • Re:Shame.. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by wcrowe ( 94389 ) on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @05:47PM (#11749304)
    "... that supposedly intelligent people are atill hell-bent on producing and consuming gasoline by preference."

    Yes, you're so much better than those idiots.

    And everything from the clothes you wear, the pizzas you eat, and the beverages you drink just magically appears in the store shelves every day without any dependence on fuel too.

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

    by MindStalker ( 22827 ) <mindstalker AT gmail DOT com> on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @05:47PM (#11749305) Journal
    Personally I'm surprised we havn't seen any federal grants here yet, if the federal government is spending billions to insure the worlds oil suppy, it seems as they would provide some grants to such an operations. Easily bringing the cost to the producers under $50 dollars a barrel. Who here is up for writing their congresscritters!
  • Re:Economical? (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @05:49PM (#11749319)
    Organic "waste" is already fuel for the growing plants.
  • Re:Shame.. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Abcd1234 ( 188840 ) on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @05:52PM (#11749348) Homepage
    Just because the carbon didn't come from drilling, doesn't mean it hurts the atmosphere less.

    Umm, actually it means exactly that. And since you're evidently unable to think for yourself, I will illustrate:

    Digging up oil and burning it releases carbon that was previously sequestered underground. Result: significant net positive release of carbon.

    Recycling Turkey offal by turning it into oil and burning the result releases carbon that was originally absorbed by plants which were fed to the Turkeys. Result: zero net gain in atmospheric carbon.

    In fact, there's likely a net *loss* of carbon, due to the oil manufacturing process, as it produces black carbon as one of it's byproducts.
  • Re:Shame.. (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @05:57PM (#11749408)
    Actually, it does.

    The only problem with the carbon in gasoline is that when you burn it, it produces C02. C02 is a greenhouse gas, and is better avoided.

    Now, if you pull C02 out of the air, and turn it into fuel, and then burn the fuel back into C02, there is no net change in the amount of C02 in the air. This is a "closed" carbon cycle, and does not "hurt the atmosphere", because it merely restores what was taken.

    With current technology, we can leave the pulling C02 out of the air to plants, and then process the plants (or the animals that eat them, and so on.)

    If you pump oil out of the ground, and burn it, you're creating C02 that was not present in the atmosphere anywhere remotely recently. Those swamps that turn into coal and algae into oil pulled C02 out of the air in the far distant past, not currently. So releasing that C02 can be seen as adding more. This "open" carbon cycle is a net change, at least on reasonable small timescales. (You can stil argue that it's closed if you want to think in hundred-million-year terms, of course. The Solar System doesn't have any more carbon in it than it did before. But as far as humans are concerned, it's open.)
  • by slashdot-me ( 40891 ) on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @09:37PM (#11751509)
    And yet, feeding cows to humans appears to transmit BSE...
  • Re:Medical waste? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Silburn_Luke ( 672738 ) on Thursday February 24, 2005 @12:04PM (#11766949)
    The word you are looking for is 'effective'.

    A motor vehicle is a far more effective transportation system, in that it can achieve higher speeds, move larger loads etc etc

    The guy on the bike is always going to be more efficient, if only because he's not carrying a ton or so of metal and plastic around with him.


The first rule of intelligent tinkering is to save all the parts. -- Paul Erlich