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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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  • by Angst Badger ( 8636 ) on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @04:40PM (#11748465)
    Given that there is legitimate concern that we will soon reach -- and maybe already have -- peak oil production, the $80/bbl price may be competitive before too long.

    The real problem is that there just aren't enough turkey guts in the world to replace crude oil, and the grain that the turkeys are fed is produced by an agricultural industry that is totally dependent on petroleum-derived fertilizers and pesticides.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @04:42PM (#11748492)
    Why does that last link run through the referal bin?
  • Why Turkey Guts? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @04:44PM (#11748522)
    There are lost of other things I would think that are more viable that are hard to get rid of. I'm sure slaughterhouses would be glad to have a way to get rid of all the shit that the animals produce. Any one remember the CNN story about the giant flaming shitheap in Nebraska? []
  • Re:Economical? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by MyLongNickName ( 822545 ) on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @04:46PM (#11748548) Journal
    You do not understand the laws of Thermodynamics. The grandparent was asking about the refinement process, not the entire system from conception of the turkey, to its growth, to when it got whacked, and its guts and crap were shipped.

    By the later definition, nothing is economical, and we shouldn't even bother getting up in the morning.
  • Re:SEWAGE! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Mr. Capris ( 839522 ) <tobeycapris&gmail,com> on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @04:47PM (#11748556)
    Hmm...if everyone had a miniture version of these plants in thier home, they could just dump everything (sewage, trash, reclyclables) down a chute and have a sign saying Oil- 25 cents a quart! outside on thier lawn...
  • by hsmith ( 818216 ) on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @04:47PM (#11748566)
    One of my mothers friends is starting a plant that converts tires into Oil. The process takes old tires and removes the oil from them, basically oil from the rubber and oil they pick up from driving on the road. I forget if it is a qt per tire or something goofy like that.

    They are out there, we need to find them.
  • Re:Cost (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Overt Coward ( 19347 ) on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @04:52PM (#11748643) Homepage
    Two things could make this economical in a hurry:

    1. Due to problems like Mad Cow disease, many countries have banned feeding animal waste to animals. The U.S. has not banned this. As a result, CWT is paying for waste products that under other circumstances, they would actually get money for disposing of. This is why they're planning on building in Europe -- because acquiring the raw material becomes an asset, not a liability.

    2. The U.S. government currently offers a $1/gallon tax credit for certain bio-diesel fuels. The CWT does not currently qualify for this credit because of the language of the law. If that is changed, there are 42 gallons per U.S. barrel, meaning a $42/barrel tax credit, which as far as I know, is as good as cash.

  • by visionsofmcskill ( 556169 ) <`moc.pmteg' `ta' `noisiv'> on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @04:58PM (#11748716) Homepage Journal
    80$ a barrell vs 50$ a barell may SEEM to be a failure, but it is actualy an incredible accomplishment that will become increasingly viable in short order.

    I've done some research on this topic and found out that californias agricultural waste which is mostly funneled down into a southern californian dessert lake area could supply enough fuel to satiate the US oil supply.

    There is enough un-inhabitable land area in southern california to process all of this waste and thus fully liberate the US from foriegn oil, not to mention create a replenshible power supply compatible with our current prevelant technology (gas based power).

    The greatest contorl over per barell pricing is from the supply made available from oil producing states greatly controlled by OPEC. As world consumption increases and known stock piles decrease and cease over the next 30 to 50 years the price per barrell will continualy rise. And will certainly exceed 80$ a barell probably within the next five to ten years.

    The only reason oil is at 50$ per barell is due to it's massive scale, if waste based oils had even a hundreth of the scale that our current oil industry uses, or even a thousandth of the money, industry and investment it does, we would probably see prices drop well below the 50$ mark.

    And this is speaking of the technology in it's current form. Though it may have some initial ineffeciences which have made the cost 80$ a barrell, cost saving measures through natural refinment of the processing of waste will undoubtably greatly improve the procedure within the next few years and continue.

    I would say that 80$ a barrell is an astounding accomplishment which given the finite and defintie bounds of drill based oil will rapdily become an extremly attractive alternative fuel source.

    Im surprised at the pesimisitc tone from slashdot. I also speculate that in the next ten years or so we shall see the major players seek control over this new market to sell oil to the world market as their drill based supply dwindles.

  • BioDesiel (Score:5, Interesting)

    by MBCook ( 132727 ) <> on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @05:00PM (#11748752) Homepage
    While this is nice and all, I think we should be working on BioDesiel more. It would be more profitable to convert soybeans and soybean oil into Desiel fuel than to try to extract that from agg. waste. While recycling is good and all, I would argue that at this point the environment would benefit more from getting large numbers of people over to BioDesiel than from sqeezing some extra oil out of waste.

    BioDesiel is the fuel of the (achievable) future, IMHO. Untill we can get Fuel Cells at reasonable prices or batteries get much better power density (or portable nuclear reactors are invented and safe) then getting peopole over to BioDesiel (which conventional Desiel engines can be easily modified to handle) is the solution.

    Plus, the exhaust smells like french fries so McDonald's should be pushing this because it will increase demand for their product. McDonald's: Bringing you the green future through fast food cravings ;)

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

    by Rei ( 128717 ) on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @05:01PM (#11748765) Homepage
    Actually, it does address the fact that there's CO2 byproducts: It's recycled carbon. The problem with using petroleum pumped up from the depths was that this was carbon that was locked up. If we grow plants, turn them into oil, and then burn them, the net change in CO2 is zero.
  • Re:It's a start. (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Kotukunui ( 410332 ) on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @05:05PM (#11748812)
    There are certain uses for petroleum that we can't reproduce via other means -- powering our cars and homes isn't one of them.

    I agree. I have yet to see a viable technology that will allow us to replicate the current level of service we get from jet airliners for air travel. I think they will be burning kero for a while yet. While there is always the option of returning to sailing ships (and solar electric powered airships for the optimistic) I think that air travel will be the last mode of transport to give up on petroleum based hydrocarbons.
  • Re:Economical? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Rei ( 128717 ) on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @05:10PM (#11748868) Homepage
    Not to mention that a process can waste far more energy than goes into it and still be viable - for example, the liquifaction of coal during WWII which partly powered the Nazi war machine. The only important thing is whether you can put into your car (or tank or whatever) the end product, when you couldn't the input products.

    I think that this process has the following applications:

    1) Disposal of waste that costs more than 30$ per barrel to dispose of as-is.

    2) Creation of oil in remote locations from waste - e.g., bringing plane flights of petroleum to a remote village in the canadian or siberian wilderness might make it cost more than 80$/barrel. The same would hold true on an even greater scale with antarctic coal.

    3) Ensuring that there never will be an overly dramatic "oil shock" - while it wasn't a realistic prospect anyways, the ability to turn essentially anything organic (even people - soylent diesel, anyone? :) ) into oil for 80$ per barrel pretty much sets that as an upper limit on costs. And as tech advances, that price per barrel will drop.

    4) Being a "clean fuel" source. Since all of the carbon involved was already in the system, there's no net increase in CO2.

    Any other benefits?
  • Re:$80 per barrel (Score:3, Interesting)

    by TykeClone ( 668449 ) * <> on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @05:21PM (#11749005) Homepage Journal
    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.

    Don't forget fuel taxes - not sure what they are, but they make up a substantial portion of that $2.30. If you are filling up and avoiding the "revenuers", then the savings would be as described. If not, then the savings wouldn't be quite as much.

  • Re:Shame.. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Abcd1234 ( 188840 ) on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @05:35PM (#11749174) Homepage
    Three words: Closed Carbon Cycle.
  • Re:Economical? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Bahumat ( 213955 ) on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @05:39PM (#11749214) Homepage Journal
    The hydrogen is liberated from the water that goes into the stage; it bonds with the carbon while the oxygen binds itself to the metals or more carbon.

    There's no magic bullet here; just a lot of basic chemistry being applied surprisingly efficiently (15 watts consumed, 100 watts produced).

    What's the surprise isn't that this works so well, it's that it hasn't gone worldwide already!
  • by Rei ( 128717 ) on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @05:46PM (#11749296) Homepage
    You know, not all waste is the stuff you find in city sewers. There are all sorts of industrial waste, and I'm not surprised that costs vary a lot. Grease traps are hardly the only ones (plus, using grease for fuel can be dealt with in other ways)

    If you want to see how much sewage treatment costs vary, google it for yourself.
  • by Engineer-Poet ( 795260 ) on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @06:07PM (#11749517) Homepage Journal
    Check the links in this post [] and this story [] (referenced here []).
  • Re:Economical? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by sunspot42 ( 455706 ) on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @06:07PM (#11749518)

    Doesn't this process consume more energy than it produces?

    Depends on how you look at it, I suppose. Looks like they are getting more energy out of the recycling process than they're putting into it, which is a plus. OTOH, everything they're recycling ultimately took a lot of oil to produce, and they're not able to turn most of that back into oil.

    I mean, think about it with just the turkeys. In order to raise a bunch of turkeys, it takes oil to get oil out of the ground. Then it takes oil to transport the oil to the United States. Then it takes oil to refine that oil into gas or other fuel. Then it takes oil to transport that fuel to its destination. Then the fuel is used in a tractor - which took a ton of oil to make - to grow the grain that the turkeys are fed. Oh, and the crops are fertilized with oil-derived fertilizers, so there's more oil dumped in the system. The grain is then harvested, consuming more fuel, processed and transported to where the turkeys are being raised. It took oil to build the factory farm where the turkeys are being raised, and they're fed a steady stream of pharmaceuticals that were made from and transported by oil. The turkeys are then slaughtered (they may be transported first, using oil), processed and typically frozen. They're then transported, in giant oil-gulping refrigerated trucks, wrapped in oil (plastic), to the local Albertsons. There, suburban housewives show up in their oil-guzzling SUV's to lug the birds home.

    Now, even if you were able to convert all of the unused bits of the turkeys and their waste to oil or some other fuel at 100% efficiency, you still would only produce a fraction of the oil it took to raise those turkeys in the first place. That leaves a tremendous energy gap to be addressed, and we don't have any technology in place or on the horizon capable of filling that void. (Please, don't say "nuclear" anybody. If we tried to replace our petroleum consumption with nuclear, we'd rapidly run out of uranium and be left with a lot of dead nuclear plants. And South Africa, that bastion of political and social stability, has the world's largest reserves of uranium. We'd just be trading our problems in the Middle East for a whole new set of problems.)

    Technologies like this waste-to-oil recycling will help to boost overall energy efficiency a teeny little bit, but they won't come close to providing a substitute for our colossal consumption of petroleum. Remember too, these technologies take oil to develop and construct, and that oil is about to become far more expensive, making these technologies less and less efficient as a result. Unfortunately, global demand continues to skyrocket, while global supply may well have peaked (thanks to political instability, if nothing else). This does not bode well for our oil-based civilization.

  • petrochemicals (Score:3, Interesting)

    by bodrell ( 665409 ) on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @06:08PM (#11749529) 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).
    The cheapest source of methanol and ethanol are also petroleum, but I certainly don't consider those petrochemicals. You can make pretty much anything from petroleum. I could synthesize the amino acids from petroleum, then use those amino acids in a medium to grow yeast. I could use take the CO2 and water byproducts of the refinement process and give those to plants, which would produce glucose. Then I could mash up the plants, feed them to the yeast, and make 100% petrochemical beer.

    If that sounds a bit ridiculous, well, that's how I interpret the assertion that fertilizer and pharmaceuticals are petrochemicals. If it doesn't come off of the cat. cracker, and doesn't have a significant hydrocarbon component, it isn't a petrochemical to me. Your definition is too broad to be really meaningful to me.

  • by GooDieZ ( 802156 ) on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @06:16PM (#11749595) Homepage
    Short facts on oil form animal waste.

    It takes alot of enery to produce it, that's true at least.

    Oil produced on this method has to be thined becouse it has greater caloric output than regular oil.
    For example u cant use this oil directly in your heating, simply becouse your oven can't take such high temperatures.

    The best way to make use of this oil is to enrich regular oil so you burn less of it. (Company around here uses this techniqe, and it's working)

    The waste that remains from production of this oil still has about 40% of energy to cover the production (if burned).

  • Re:It's a start. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by ralphclark ( 11346 ) on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @06:18PM (#11749615) Journal
    He knows that. What are the chances he could have made two such egregious errors in the same sig? One of the errors has been genuine "aarrrgh" material for Trekkers going back 40 years. The other is an impossible error, because you could not possibly know the quotation so accurately without knowing the correct attribution. Can you say "telegraph"? He's doing it on purpose. It's an entire troll in a sig.
  • by Rei ( 128717 ) on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @06:49PM (#11749911) Homepage
    Interesting idea. I'd imagine you probably wouldn't get as much oil as with many other types of organic matter, but it should separate the nitrates nicely.
  • RECYCLING (Score:3, Interesting)

    by cryptochrome ( 303529 ) on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @07:01PM (#11750037) Journal
    This is a great idea.

    This is not making energy from nothing. This is capturing energy that would have normally gone to waste. Even better, it is capturing the energy in a highly useful form, oil.

    You are correct that although what goes out may come right back in, energy will be gradually lost in the process. You still need a net input of energy. That could come out of the ground as it does now, in which case we would only be slowing down our mad dash to turn all the buried carbon in the world back into carbon dioxide... but it could also just as easily, perhaps even MORE easily, come from other sources. The most obvious being... random biomass. Not even something fancy like rapeseed, whatever you can lay your hands one. Grass, weeds, trash trees. That damned acacia or kudzu or duckweed or cedar that's ruining your local biome. Easily available everywhere, except maybe in the desert. Stuff that doesn't need fertilizer or pesticides or care or energy to produce, just sunlight, water, CO2, and dirt, and produces O2 in the process.

    The "hydrogen economy" is a red herring. Hydrogen is a total bitch to store and transport, requires specialized equipment to use, and the energy needed to make it has to come from somewhere. It's only advantage is not producing carbon dioxide at the source. Diesel, OTOH, is ideal to store and use, and has a huge infrastructure built around it. Make that biodiesel, and it becomes renewable. And that is essentially what this technology is producing from waste. Add in some purposefully grown material to make up for losses, and you'll never need to import another barrel.

    There's no need to worry about CO2 as a byproduct, if in the larger cycle you take in as much as you put out. If you no longer have to dig carbon out of the ground, you no longer have to worry about putting CO2 in the air.

    You might want to build a solar thermal one though. After all, this process requires energy mainly in the form of heat, and a field of mirrors can capture solar thermal energy far better than a field of plants can. Geothermal, where applicable, would work pretty well too. Nukes, which are also thermal, would work, but they're not worth the hassle.

    Not only does it produce useful energy carriers like oil and gas, it can also separate out pure carbon (useful for many purposes) and solids which are a mix of metals and minerals. Useful, partially refined minerals and metals which would require less energy to turn them into useful materials than the stuff you dug out of the ground to make the original material in the first place. The oil and gas themselves also make for a good feedstock for various petrochemicals, namely plastics.

    That waste can including toxic or hazardous waste. Stuff we normally would have spent energy to dispose of and had to build a landfill for. Bonus!

    Hey, you can also use this to produce relatively clean water that can of course be purified further. Since a natural candidate for this technology is wastewater, you'll probably be producing a lot of it too. Double bonus!

    I can sum this up in one word. RECYCLING. Not today's bullshit recycling where only aluminum cans can be efficiently reused, because aluminum is so hideously energy intensive (you'd be better off buying plastic bottles and throwing them away energy-wise). Your garbage becomes an important resource. We're talking all types of waste, human, industrial, post-consumer, agricultural, toxic, everything.

    Economically viable, universal RECYCLING, that takes care of dangerous materials to boot.

    Hell, if it works as advertised, we'll be digging into our landfills instead of virgin soil for resources.
  • Re:It's a start. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by xoboots ( 683791 ) on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @07:19PM (#11750219) Journal
    okay, this is gonna cost me mod status for a real dumb thing but, hell, its Star Trek and star wars!!!.

    Further compounding the troll, the .sig actually points to a real Star Trek episode, "The Galileo Seven", Stardate 2822.3, Episode 14 in which we get plenty of Mr. Spock/Yoda-like platitudes.



    Spock: I realize that command does have its fascination, even under circumstances such as these, but I neither enjoy the idea of command nor am I frightened of it. It simply exists, and I will do whatever logically needs to be done.


    McCoy: Life and death are seldom logical.

    Spock: But attaining a desired goal always is.


    Spock: I'm frequently appalled by the low regard you Earthmen have for life.


    Spock: There are always alternatives.


    Spock: It is more rational to sacrifice one life than six.


    Spock: No! Leave me!


    Spock: By coming back and helping me, you may have destroyed your chances of rescue. The logical thing to do was to leave me.

    McCoy: Spock, I'm sick to death of your logic.


    Spock: Totally illogical, there was no chance.

    Scotty: You said there were always alternatives.

    Spock: I did? I may have been mistaken.

    McCoy: Well at least I lived long enough to hear that.
  • by uhlume ( 597871 ) on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @07:58PM (#11750653) Homepage
    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.

    Of course, given the readily-available technology to run diesel engines on vegetable oil [] with no additional processing, this may simply be redundant...
  • Re:Economical? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by gessel ( 310103 ) on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @08:05PM (#11750723) Homepage
    It's a useful minor energy source, but primarily it's good for converting a stinky, unpleasant, difficult to handle waste stream into something useful. There's simply not enough food waste to supply the system. Growing targeted crops would be absurdly inefficient. At best photosynthesis is 2.5% efficient, compared to 12% for commercially available solar panels. Take system inefficiencies in the stream from sunlight to depolymerizable crop and there isn't enough arable land on earth to meet our energy demands.

    There's a basic energy balance concept that seems to escape most supposedly intelligent pundits on this issue. It's the sort of thing you're supposed to learn in 7th grade with rate problems: the world is a closed system, with energy in and energy out. Energy in comes from the sun, energy out is radiated heat. Over time there has been very slightly more energy in than out, which is stored as fossil fuels.

    Ignoring the consequences of liberating all the CO2 ever captured in the history of the world over the next century, there's neither enough fossil fuel to last nor enough arable land to build an economy around a sustainable biofuel stream.

    But Solar is trivial. It easily answers the world's energy needs at an entirely manageable cost.

    A 16kWh/day (5.8E3 kWh/y) complete grid tie system costs $15k (12% efficient BP panels). 2E10 of these systems would power the whole world (volume discount?) which would cost $3.1E14 at today's retail which is roughly the GDP of the world for 7.5 years. Now figure you're asking BP to manufacture 4E11 solar panels... that's 400,000,000,000 panels. Maybe they'd be bit cheaper at that volume.

    But we can reasonably assume typical cost reductions and a combination of PV and solar heating; the world uses 1.2E14 total kwh/year for all purposes, but only 1.3E13 kWh global consumption of electricity. If we replaced only electricity consumption for the whole world at RETAIL prices it would cost only 70% of the world GDP for one year and require only 4E10 panels and 5.6E10 square meters of land area - out of 1.3E14 available in the world, or 0.04% of the planet's land (0.4% to replace all energy consumed for all reasons with PV).

    The US used 2.8E13 kWh total energy in all forms last year (3.6E12 kWh electricity) which would require 9.6E10 solar panels to generate or 1.3E11 square meters and $7.2E13 at retail. This would occupy 1.4% of our land area of 9.4E12 square meters..

    We've paved 1.6E11 square meters: that is we've subsidized the auto and petroleum industry with a welfare gift of 1.7% of the total land area of the nation, more than it would take to be entirely energy independent.

    Continuing the car comparison, our roadways, taxpayer financed at a cost of about $2M/lane mile or $340/sq meter, cost $1.9E13 in today's dollars compared to $7.2E13 to convert the entire country's entire energy use to PV. Realistically we'd convert only the electricity consumption of 3.6E12 kWh at $9.3E12 at RETAIL, less than half of what we taxpayers have given the auto and oil industry, not including the value of the real estate.

    Converting the entire world to PV entirely as a collective effort would piss off the libertarians and the oil magnates (generally for different reasons) but doing so would cost less than the corporate welfare we've dumped on the oil and auto industries. Even today it's hardly insurmountable. Compared to the value of a zero emissions, entirely sustainable energy economy, it's trivial.

    One argument I had with a friend about our capture of the Iraqi oil was over the counter argument presented by some math challenged conservative pundits (are any conservative pundits not math challenged?) that the oil costs would not offset the cost of taking Iraq, as if the suggestion that we are there to protect our oil was somehow ludicrous.

    This argument ignores the most obvious counter that taxpayers are footing the $200B bill while Haliburton takes the profits, which before the invasion were going to Fr
  • Re:Economical? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Jarvo ( 70205 ) on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @08:53PM (#11751133)
    Yes, a lot of oil is required to build the infrastructure of, and to run, a turkey farm.

    You are forgetting a significant external source of energy: the sun. (sun shines, plants grow, turkeys eat plants)

    Right now, turkeys might be the most economical or the easiest source material for their process. It may be better to feed the machine plant material directly.

    You then replace processes like:
    - Extraction of turkey-edible material (e.g. grain)
    - Transportation of turkey-edible material.
    - Conversion of turkey-edible material to turkey guts.
    - Extraction of turkey guts.
    - Transportation of turkey guts.

    - Transportation of plant matter.
  • Re:Economical? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Doc Ruby ( 173196 ) on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @09:19PM (#11751349) Homepage Journal
    You're not reading the article, or their website. Their efficiency numbers have not been contradicted, though they've been consistent and detailed, with explanations. The $80:bbl is because they're paying the ridiculous $30-40:ton of turkey offal - there's plenty of agwaste that producers pay to dispose, like the $200:ton NYC pays to send its sewage to Texas. And the "natural gas" isn't going to run out - it's a byproduct of their process, which is net 80-85% efficient - including their transport costs, for which they already account.

    The energy game is a game of alternatives. If we don't build CWT plants, we'll build other, more expensive petro or nuke plants. And recycling all that waste saves not only consumption of petrofuel, but the expense of discarding the waste, and the transport of all that energy and waste. Not to mention all the pollution savings, from recycling waste, forgoing petro, and the increased efficiencies. BTW, coal -> crude oil is now about $50:bbl, with a huge startup cost. And the waste from that process - even the radiation generated would dwarf our whole history of (plus unreported) nuclear leaks, not to mention the CO2 and smog. CWT is clearly the way to go, unless someone actually can contest their numbers.
  • Re:Economical? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Rei ( 128717 ) on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @09:40PM (#11751534) Homepage
    >There's simply not enough food waste to supply the system.

    You're kidding right? Here in Iowa, we're having huge problems with all of the ag waste that we don't know how to get rid of. Hog farming alone is posing a serious threat to our rivers, as they can't use the *manure* fast enough (natural fertilizer, in the corn belt, and they can't even use that fast enough!).

    > Growing targeted crops would be absurdly inefficient. At best photosynthesis
    > is 2.5% efficient, compared to 12% for commercially available solar panels.

    So very wrong. At best, photosynthesis is 11% efficient - 45% of light is PAR (photosynthetically active radiation), of which due to limitations on how much energy is needed per CO2 molecule brings it down to 25%; factoring in the whole cycle, you get 11%. On average, plants get 3-6% efficiency.

    On a cost per energy converted basis, plants blow solar panels so far out of the competition that they'll have to go through reentry to get back ;)

    > Take system inefficiencies in the stream from > sunlight to depolymerizable crop and
    > there isn't enough arable land on earth to
    > meet our energy demands.

    Land *and* water. Sunlight striking earth is 15,000 times more than all global energy consumption. Given that anywhere from 10% to over 70% of the energy from all crop growth (depending on the crop) is given up to decomposition of the non-harvested parts by bacteria at the end of the plant's life, current ag waste is more than enough to provide *all* of Earth's energy. Of course, if you don't let your plants decompose at all, they don't put the nutrients back into the soil; however, this process gives the nutrients right back for fertilizer.

    > Over time there has been very slightly more energy in than out, which is stored
    > as fossil fuels.

    Can you honestly call 178,000 terrawatts "slightly"? With a straight face?

    > But Solar is trivial.

    As someone who has actually run the numbers for converting their home to solar (and wind, for that matter), I can assure you that it is anything but.

    > which would cost $3.1E14 at today's retail which is roughly the GDP of the
    > world for 7.5 years.

    And then you factor in interest....

    > Now figure you're asking BP to manufacture 4E11 solar panels... that's
    > 400,000,000,000 panels. Maybe they'd be bit cheaper at that volume.

    Probably. But most of the limitation is due to how cheap we can produce sufficient-quality silicon, which is no simple technical task.

    > If we replaced only electricity consumption for the whole world at RETAIL prices

    Solar is far more expensive than oil, no matter how you try and spin the numbers. You don't need to multiply by the size of the world - just look at a per-kwh basis. And if you use a free or low cost feedstock, this tech is actually almost as cheap as oil.

    I'm very hopeful for solar - I really am. But, at current prices, it's nowhere *close* to competitive, even with this brand new waste-to-fuel tech.
  • Re:$80 per barrel (Score:2, Interesting)

    by ralphdaugherty ( 225648 ) <> on Tuesday February 22, 2005 @10:53PM (#11751980) Homepage
    The $80 per barrel number is misleading.

    Good point, and misleading in more ways than one. The Discover "Anything Into Oil" article quoted Changing World Technologies as saying that "we'll make oil at $15 a barrel".

    Ok, their estimate was wrong, the Fortune Small Business "A Turkey In Your Tank" article says that as a result of having to pay for turkey offal with no tax breaks, "CWT's production costs have doubled, to nearly $80 a barrel".

    But this implies that if the input stock were free, production costs would be closer to $40 a barrel instead of their estimated $15 a barrel or the cited $80 a barrel.

    So why aren't they using nearly free input, for example as suggested by /. posters, manure storage that are huge environmental problems on the east coast? What about the mountains of landfills to be mined?

    The problem is a $30 million plant was built next to a turkey plant that could sell the turkey offal, and will, because we still allow animal remains to be made into animal feed. Hopefully without Americans developing something akin to Mad Cow Disease the offal will come cheaper to the plant when it is no longer allowed to be used in feed and becomes less valuable.

    But in the meantime, it seems the $80 a barrel is misleading and should be $40 a barrel plus cost of stock, or more importantly, minus cost of being paid to recycle.

    Why America is not putting these TMD plants close to gigantic landfills and manure pits immediately is hard to understand. Just eliminating the waste would be sufficient reason, but offsetting the need to import oil would also be sufficient in itself.

    Together, this should be #2 heating oil, distilled water, and carbon powder and minerals at less than $40 a barrel. Instead, the company is forced to seek to go overseas to survive.

    Maybe if it is stated as $40 a barrel less cost saved from waste instead of $80 a barrel it would no longer be misleading and the comparisons to $50 a barrel would become positive instead of negative.

    Because this technology should be a positive story for America today, not something that someday will become cost effective at $80 a barrel.

  • Re:Economical? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Silburn_Luke ( 672738 ) on Wednesday February 23, 2005 @09:15AM (#11754441)
    The initial bump isn't perfect, but it's not a global effects issue. Cutting over to cycles like bio-ethanol, bio-methanol, vegetable biodiesel or Thermally Depolymerized biodiesel do reduce the CO2 impact of transportation fuels to effectively nothing.
    There's a crucial qualification. Its only carbon net-zero for the proportion of transportation fuels that can be effectively switched across to these alternative sources.

    Anyone care to take a WAG as to what fraction of the USA's current diesel consumption would be substituted if all of the turkey guts in the USA's agricultural sector were redirected to this process at an 80% recovery efficiency?

    I'd do it myself but I need to grab a sandwich before my next meeting.


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