Oil From Anything

from the backup? dept

Somoene who prefers to be anonymous writes "Blood for Oil! Technological savvy could turn 600 million tons of turkey guts and other waste into 4 billion barrels of light Texas crude each year." While the idea of a literal transformation of blood into oil is amusing considering current world events, this one sets off all sorts of "wait just a second..." alarms in my head. It reads like a scam in so many ways, but if it's true, then it would be pretty impressive. The folks working on it say we could solve a bunch of problems at once: taking a lot of our waste material that is already filling up landfills and turning it into oil used to produce energy. They even claim (though, this argument is a bit more convoluted) that it would reduce global warming by keeping the level of carbon in the atmosphere stable. I'll wait and let those who have more knowledge of things like thermal depolymerization processes have their say.


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    mhh5, Apr 17th, 2003 @ 3:57pm

    obligatory comment from techdirt's polymer chemist

    Is this "too good to be true"? Partially.

    Is the process scientifically sound? Yes. There are certainly many ways to synthesize hydrocarbons. I forget which World War, but Germany made its own gasoline from various different sources when it absolutely had to.

    Is this process going to eliminate the need to pump oil out of the ground? Nope. Pumping oil out of the ground is really cheap. And there's so much oil still left that it's not yet economically benefitial to do otherwise.

    Also, I need to look up the numbers, but the amounts of oil we use for fuel is just insanely large. This is why we don't switch to using biodiesel. Capturing enough biomass to convert to usable fuels is the trick. I don't think we have enough turkeys or corn or leftover cow parts to fuel our country at its current or projected energy usage.

    That's not to say we shouldn't have supplemental sources of energy. Just because solar/wind/biodiesel/etc/etc can't fully replace oil doesn't mean we shouldn't diversify our energy sources as much as we can. But there's no magic bullet, either. No single alternative energy source will probably save us from our fossil fuel addiction, but every one helps....

    So will this process free us from imported oil? Probably not. This is not a cheaper alternative. I doubt this company will really be able to compete with Middle East oil consortiums, but it's nice to have the technology just in case all hell breaks loose and we need to supply all our own oil needs like Germany did in WWI(I). Unless things really go crazy, though, I don't think we will need/want to stop importing oil. It's just not cost effective.... yet?

     

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      Jared Clarke, Apr 17th, 2003 @ 7:46pm

      Re: obligatory comment from techdirt's polymer che

      Yeah, its for real. As for oil usage, I think the projection is that if we had a few plants operating at capacity we could replace what we import from the mid-East. Nothing as grandiose as some would like, but, a start to be sure.

       

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      VonSkippy, Apr 18th, 2003 @ 8:40am

      time for the that polymer chemist to go back to sc

      I could spend a few minutes picking apart the out of date off the cuff statements this person makes, but the already pre-digested info for those people who can't rub more then a few brain cells together can be found at: http://www.discover.com/may_03/gthere.html?article=featoil.html The concept is not "pie in the sky" but already way past the proof of concept point and is being rolled out into large scale testing as we converse. Lets all get our FACTS straight before we pretend to know something!

       

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        mhh5, Apr 18th, 2003 @ 10:46am

        Re: time for the that polymer chemist to go back t

        Uh, please enlighten me. I did NOT say the process was "pie in the sky", in fact, I stated that there are *many* processes to produce hydrocarbons that can be used as fuels.

        Biodiesel is probably the simplest way to get fuel from waste products, and it's economically viable. However, the biomass needed to replace imported oil is insufficient. I assume the same is true for this "oil from anything" process.

        The Discover article cited quotes somewhat "outlandish" numbers. It says converting ALL US agricultural waste into oil by this process would equal our imported oil quantities. Good luck trying to scrape together ALL of our waste! That's the reason why they built a plant next to a turkey processing center. This process is most economical when their starting material (our waste) is readily available. The more starting material you need, the less economical this process probably becomes.

        If you have any more FACTS, please let us know. I'd love to be proven wrong. This could be the answer to all of our energy problems! I doubt it truly is. I'm not saying it's not a good solution, but that it's just not "THE" solution.

        And by "THE" solution, I mean this process will not replace our fossil fuel addiction all by itself. If you want to argue about whether or not the company that owns this process will be successful, that's another issue. It's just my opinion that this process, while a good alternative, will not stop us from pumping oil from the ground anytime soon.

         

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          mhh5, Apr 18th, 2003 @ 10:49am

          Re: time for the that polymer chemist to go back t

          One other thing. If this process can be applied to coal gasification, then it might free us from pumping oil from the ground. THAT would be cool. But the article doesn't mention it.

          Unfortunately, that would just shift us from pumping oil to mining coal from the ground.....

           

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            BDH, Apr 21st, 2003 @ 7:48pm

            Re: time for the that polymer chemist to go back t

            Actually that article *did* mention treatement of coal and other petroleum products. Here is a snippet of the article that discusses it. And, don't forget that, in addition to agricultural waste, the process can be used on used tires. That would have a huge impact on landfill space now used as tire graveyards.
            ==Snip========================================
            In the meantime, thermal depolymerization can make the petroleum industry itself cleaner and more profitable, says John Riordan, president and CEO of the Gas Technology Institute, an industry research organization. Experiments at the Philadelphia thermal depolymerization plant have converted heavy crude oil, shale, and tar sands into light oils, gases, and graphite-type carbon. "When you refine petroleum, you end up with a heavy solid-waste product that's a big problem," Riordan says. "This technology will convert these waste materials into natural gas, oil, and carbon. It will fit right into the existing infrastructure."
            Appel says a modified version of thermal depolymerization could be used to inject steam into underground tar-sand deposits and then refine them into light oils at the surface, making this abundant, difficult-to-access resource far more available. But the coal industry may become thermal depolymerization's biggest fossil-fuel beneficiary. "We can clean up coal dramatically," says Appel. So far, experiments show the process can extract sulfur, mercury, naphtha, and olefins—all salable commodities—from coal, making it burn hotter and cleaner. Pretreating with thermal depolymerization also makes coal more friable, so less energy is needed to crush it before combustion in electricity-generating plants.
            ==Snip=======================================

             

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            Beaugrand, May 9th, 2003 @ 8:32pm

            Re: time for the that polymer chemist to go back t

            Coal was mentioned in the Discover article:
            "...But the coal industry may become thermal depolymerization's biggest fossil-fuel beneficiary. "We can clean up coal dramatically," says Appel. So far, experiments show the process can extract sulfur, mercury, naphtha, and olefins—all salable commodities—from coal, making it burn hotter and cleaner. Pretreating with thermal depolymerization also makes coal more friable, so less energy is needed to crush it before combustion in electricity-generating plants."

             

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          steve, Apr 21st, 2003 @ 6:15pm

          Wait just a minute.

          I'm excited about this technology! Please have a clue: There will never be ONE solution. The trick is the bring along competing technologies which produce crude in the $30 a barrel range, hopefully lower. Let's face it, there are only so many dinosuars we can suck out of the ground! As for Butterball, The cost of clean disposal justifies TDP. There are plenty companies like Tyson & Purdue with the same problem. The U.S. leads the world in safe food processing and TDP takes it to the next level by dealing with the waste! The mass media outlets should be covering this more closely.

           

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            John Washburn, Aug 14th, 2003 @ 1:24pm

            Re: Wait just a minute.

            It is exciting!
            If TDP is used only for garbage and sewerage treatment in New York, Chigago, and LA., for Sewerage treatment at industrial Pig and chicken "farms" and for processing offal at slaughter houses, it would be a GOOD THING.
            The mountans of garbage produced by the the US top ten cities would be reduced and processed for less cost. Also the result would be more than a grass covered hill.
            The sewerage cesspools on industrial farms would disappear as would the stench, disease danger and ground water damage caused by the leaks.
            Sewerage (Human and animal), offal, and gargbage is expensive to process and curently creates little of economic value. Milwaukee's MilOrganite Fertilizer is all that comes to mind. The money is paid to PREVENT harm. The TDP process lessens this cost of processing because the material is still processed into more benign results, but those results have some intrinsic, economic value.
            Even at a cost of production of $22 per barrel and selling at a market price of $12 per barrel, TDP would still be cost effective. The $22 dollars is being spent anyway to treat turkey offal. That you can sell some of the treated offal for $10 means "offal processing costs" for Butterball have dropped dramatically.
            An this ignores the fact that methane, crude oil, and chemical feed stock is better for the environment than turkey offal rotting underground in a hill someware for 2-10 years.
            The comment about VC exit strategies though is absolutely dead on.

             

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          Tackleberry, Sep 13th, 2003 @ 9:36pm

          Re: time for the that polymer chemist to go back t

          The problem of insufficent biomass won't slow this process down because of the variety of potential feedstocks. We already have a huge infrastructure that does nothing but concentrate our various solid wastes; sewage, trash, paper & plastics for recycling etc. So some strategic planning will result in virtually limitless source material at virtually no additional cost.

          What excites me most about this technology is the potential of the American (and global)Agricultural engine to start raising crops specifically for transmission straight into fuel, which would essentially be solar power once removed. I once read that to provide enough electricty to power America we would need to cover the state of New Mexico woth solar cells which is, to say the lest, impractical. But, could we plant that much acreage in alfalfa? or soy beans or kudzu or fescue or buffalo grass or hemp or sugar beets, whatever our Ag Universities can determine will give us the max gallons per acre? Piece of cake.

          All this, of course only if this process lives up to it's promise. I'm an optimist, but I'm not a fool. I will be watching this closely to see howit pans out.

           

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        JimD, Apr 21st, 2003 @ 10:12pm

        Re: time for the that polymer chemist to go back t

        Enron was way past the proof of concept point too. The article was written and edited by venture capitalists beginning to market their position for a profitable exit in a year or two. VC's always need a clear exit strategy. Still, it may be a very exciting way to increase the diversity of energy sources we use. Its worth watching as time will tell whether its real, or its a flim flam. Time always clarifies things.

         

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        russell, Aug 3rd, 2003 @ 2:17pm

        Re: time for the that polymer chemist to go back t

        where can i learn how to build a small economicly affordable thermaldepolarizeing unit for my personal fuel consumption needs?if you have the answer please respond via my email address.Im smart enough to understand how to perform a baisc rotine.( despite what my improper spelling suggests contray)

        if i need to save,borrow or co-op for any expensive industrial parts that cant be substituted or improvised i shall.However what im interested in most to get out of the thermaldepolarizeing process is a gas octane of 80 something or whatever octane can safely run my automobile.other types of oil or carbon excretions arent a priorty in comparison to my ambitions to be self suffent and free of other peoples gasoline.

         

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