I was reading a lot of garbage this week. To be more precise, it seems there was a lot news lately about turning garbage into fuel. That sounds like a pipe dream doesn’t it? You take something abundant and unavoidable that no one wants and turn it into something everyone’s wants and is talking about.
Apparently, a lot of people are taking this idea seriously. A recent New York Times article mentions that 28 small plants are close to or under construction and some are already running in test mode.
These plants plan on converting wood chips, garbage, or crop waste into motor fuel. This conversion idea isn’t new or particularly exotic. Scientists have known this is possible for decades but when cheap energy-dense oil is available why bother right? Now, of course, with oil prices way up in the mesosphere, alternative fuel production seems to be one of the major topics of conversation.
The government is pushing for this as well. Legislation from last year requires more than 18 billion gallons of biofuels by 2022 to come from nonfood sources.
Last year the Energy Department picked 6 projects that it found most promising and offered them tens of millions of dollars.
I think this new industry reached a milestone recently once some of the big boys started taking this idea seriously; like… Honeywell, Dupont, General Motors, Shell and BP.
Dupont is investing 140 million dollars for a process to convert nonedible parts of corn and sugar cane into ethanol.
GM has invested an undisclosed sum in a company called Coskata of Warrenville Illinois. This company claims to be on the verge of being able to produce ethanol from garbage on a commercial scale. They think they’ll have a commercial test facility ready next year.
A key step in the specific process they and some other companies are using to convert garbage to energy is called gasification.
Gasification is like a partial incineration. Incineration typically uses a lot of air in order to produce a full combustion which in turn produces carbon dioxide and water as byproducts.
Gasification uses limited amounts of oxygen to partially incinerate material which produces carbon monoxide and hydrogen. This still has a lot of chemical energy left. This mixture is then fed to bacteria to produces ethanol which is purified and blended with fuel.
One of the benefits of this process is that it can use any type of carbon waste like plain garbage, tires, or biomass. One key upside is that none of these are used for food. This way you avoid that whole mess we’re seeing now with turing corn into biofuel. Another obvious advantage is that farmland is not used.
Hopefully one of these companies will find the right technology and business model so we can really start weaning ourselves off of the oil teet.
p.s. Sorry for the short post. There were some other areas of this story I wanted to cover but I got home late last night from my first and last Haunted House meeting this year.
It’s official…there’s no haunted house for me this year. 🙁
My partners and I (including my brother Jay) have run a professional haunted corn maze for 3 years now. We’ve done well too with over 15,000 customers, countless screams and many verified wet pants. Unfortunately, Costco decided they liked the nice flat farmland we were on. The land owners could only hear …Cha-Ching… and we were out on our butts. We’ve been trying to get other venues with little luck. Last night we ran the numbers and admitted to ourselves that we can’t do it this year. I’m pretty bummed but I’ll still have a great Halloween season this year. I can do things now that I haven’t done in 3 years like go to tons of haunted houses. When you run a haunted house you never get to see what other haunters are doing. I’ll also be able to go to any halloween parties I’m invited to and throw my own again this year. I already have the theme picked out.