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Researchers from UC Riverside and a small company announced a new process yesterday that allows them to create diesel from pretty much anything that contains carbon. The process can convert sewer sludge, wood, agricultural waste, plain old trash, and even plastic into a gas, and then turning the gas into high-quality diesel. While other gasification processes have been developed in the past, this process promises to be significantly more cost effective. The gasification is achieved by using hydrogen and steam at nearly 1,500 degrees to break apart the feed stock into a gas. Traditional gasification methods use oxygen instead of hydrogen and require large amounts of energy. The new process is also a lot faster, adding to the cost savings. While the process of gasification normally takes about an hour, the new process reduces this to about 6 minutes, a tenfold improvement. The current production cost is about $1 a gallon, but retail would be higher. A pilot plant will be built, and it will be able to convert 10 tons of waste per day into fuel. Getting rid of waste, and producing fuel at the same time sounds like a win-win situation to me.
[Source: San Bernardino County Sun]


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    • 1 Second Ago
  • 7 Comments
      • 8 Years Ago
      This reminds me of the article in Discover magazine from April '03 on "anything into oil." Some other supposedly big-step-forward process in turning any carbon source material into sweet, light crude oil. Now I never have heard much on this since that article, and have always wondered if it was an April Fool's article on the part of Discover. But if it was for real, they were claiming to produce a barrel of oil for about $15, made out of turkey guts from a big turkey processing factory. Hmmm, I just googled it and it seems that it weren't an April Fool's article. Here's what Discover now says: http://www.discover.com/issues/jul-04/features/anything-into-oil/

      Anyway, this UC Riverside diesel idea--what's the net energy situation? 1,500'F (it is Farenheit, right?) is a lot of energy to be spending to get some diesel out the other end.
      • 8 Years Ago
      "Where do the heavy metals and chemicals from the sewage sludge end up?" -- Chris

      Good question! When I was involved with a wastewater treatment plant in MN, that was a fairly big issue that kept the sludge from being used as fertilizer. OTOH, we burned leaded gas for 60 years, and nobody seemed to care.

      Other chemicals probably wouldn't be much of a problem, since the stuff is gasified -- that pretty much gets rid of the low-level antibiotics that currently pose a wastewater treatment problem. But I kinda wonder -- why bother to convert the gas to diesel? Seems like a waste of enery, and there are other ways to get biodiesel. Surely, the gas could be used as-is.

      Besides which, the diesel conversion process uses hydrogen, and current commercial production of hydrogen is from conversion of FOSSIL FUEL. Maybe the gas from this process could be used in place of the FOSSIL FUEL, or maybe one of those new biological processes could be used to produce the hydrogen, but right now, that is a non-green step in the process.
      • 8 Years Ago
      So am I the only one who thought of the trash powered Delorean in Back to the Future II?

      Great scott!
      • 8 Years Ago
      The production cost is a bit higher than converting WVO or SVO, but I suppose the feedstock is cheaper...
      • 8 Years Ago
      Where do the heavy metals and chemicals from the sewage sludge end up?
      • 8 Years Ago
      The process in question, Jonathan, was called TDP (Thermal Depolymerization Process) but they've changed the acronym now. The company information may be seen on www.changingworldtech.com and it makes for very interesting reading. In their proprietary process, medical biohazards are destroyed and become - light crude oil (essentially, home heating oil or diesel fuel), and may be cracked in a refinery to become gasoline, as well. There is a full-scale production plant making turkey offal into oil right now in Carthage, Missouri (next to a Butterball turkey facility, naturally enough) and the process can indeed apparently make oil from garbage, sewage, and obviously offal. It is also carbon-neutral, re-using carbon already "out from under ground."

      I wrote to President Bush and essentially said "let's do it - our grandparents did miracles in WW2, let's adapt this process, get rid of land fills and sewage plants, and get rid of importing all oil. Needless to say, and unfortunately, I not only got no response, but yet another opportunity was wasted. We could potentially have been energy independent by the summer of 2005 and Katrina would not have affected us nearly as badly.
      • 8 Years Ago
      I am loving how today most universities and car companies are working overtime for alternative fuel. This recent frenzy is sure to change things in the near future.