(Reprint of a GNN story from 2003; in preparation for a followup article soon)
IMAGINE. . . Imagine a machine that can turn almost anything into oil. Imagine that it uses natural processes like heat and pressure, and produces no pollution. Imagine that waste from landfills, refuse from poultry factories, sludge from city sewage, or even infectious medical waste, are used to make the oil. Everybody says it sounds too good to be true. But now we have the science — and two factories — to prove it.
“This is a solution to three of the biggest problems facing mankind,” Brian Appel, CEO of Changing World Technologies, Inc., told Discover magazine in a May 2003 feature article. “This process can deal with the world’s waste. It can supplement our dwindling supplies of oil. And it can slow down global warming.”
CWT established a Research and Development plant in Philadelphia in 1999 to test and refine the technology. It successfully processed about seven tons per day of different types of waste, like animal waste, tires, plastics and paper.
ConAgra Foods proposed a joint venture for the first commercial application of the technology. As a result, a $20 million plant is poised to begin operating in September on the grounds of a massive Butterball Turkey plant in Carthage, Missouri. Funded in part by a $5 million grant from the US Environmental Protection Agency, the plant will process 200 tons per day of fats, bones, feathers, and grease, turning it into oil, with the only by-product being water.
“This is tremendous!” said Paul Baskis, the inventor of the process, to the Kansas City Star. “From the tests we’ve run in our pilot, we know that if we took all the agricultural wastes (in America) and converted them into oil we could make billions of barrels per year.” (One billion barrels could effectively eliminate the need for Persian Gulf imports.)
The conversion process emulates the earth’s natural geothermal activity, whereby organic material is converted into fossil fuel under conditions of extreme heat and pressure over millions of years. By using pipes, pressure vessels, valves, and heat exchange storage tanks to control temperature and pressure, thermal depolymerization shortens the process from millions of years to mere hours. And, the process is simple enough to be completed “on the back of a flatbed truck,” says Appel.
The technology is 85% energy efficient because it has very low Btu requirements. It generates its own energy, utilizes recycled water throughout, produces no uncontrollable emissions and no secondary hazardous waste streams. In addition, the process can make both the coal and petroleum industries themselves more clean and profitable by turning their waste and chemical by-products into salable resources.