Hello,

We noticed you're browsing in private or incognito mode.

To continue reading this article, please exit incognito mode or log in.

Not an Insider? Subscribe now for unlimited access to online articles.

Intelligent Machines

Garbage Into Oil

How to turn garbage into fuel.

The recipe for making crude oil is relatively simple: combine the remains of ferns, jellyfish, and dinosaurs; cover with sediment; bury deep in the earth’s crust; and apply pressure for millions of years-give or take an epoch. Or if you’re pressed for time, run some turkey parts or used tires through the thermal process owned by Changing World Technologies of West Hempstead, NY. The system uses water, pressure, and heat to convert organic material into clean fuel gas, absorbent carbon (like that used in water filters),  minerals for fertilizer, and a crude oil that is chemically similar to a mixture of diesel fuel and gasoline; this oil can be sold to refineries and converted into fuel. The system produces no polluting emissions, and the only by-product is water.

In April 2003, the first commercial thermo-depolymerization plant opened in Carthage, MO. Every day, the plant handles 200 tons of unused turkey parts produced by ConAgra’s Butterball turkey plant. Such waste is now typically reprocessed into animal feed, but this practice may not be allowed much longer in the United States: Britain has already outlawed it in the wake of hoof-and-mouth and mad-cow disease outbreaks traced to reconstituted animal feed.

The first stage of the thermal process has been around since the 1960s as a way to convert organic waste into hydrocarbon liquids. But the process has been inefficient, says Changing World chief technology officer Terry Adams, because it typically employs a single reactor both to heat the organic matter and to convert it into oil. That creates nonuniform heating, which breaks down molecules unevenly and results in a low-grade oil. Changing World uses two main reactors that heat and pressurize much more efficiently. And the system handles not only turkey offal but tires, plastics, sludge, municipal waste, paper, and livestock remains-expanding its potential for widespread use. “They have certainly produced the products they’ve claimed at a smaller scale,” says MIT chemical engineer Jefferson Tester, who visited a pilot plant in Philadelphia and is intrigued by the larger-scale possibilities. Mother Nature can definitely transform the same products into usable fuel; you’d just have to wait a little longer.

This story is part of our June 2003 Issue
See the rest of the issue
Subscribe

Tech Obsessive?
Become an Insider to get the story behind the story — and before anyone else.

Subscribe today
More from Intelligent Machines

Artificial intelligence and robots are transforming how we work and live.

Want more award-winning journalism? Subscribe and become an Insider.
  • Insider Plus {! insider.prices.plus !}* Best Value

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Everything included in Insider Basic, plus the digital magazine, extensive archive, ad-free web experience, and discounts to partner offerings and MIT Technology Review events.

    See details+

    Print + Digital Magazine (6 bi-monthly issues)

    Unlimited online access including all articles, multimedia, and more

    The Download newsletter with top tech stories delivered daily to your inbox

    Technology Review PDF magazine archive, including articles, images, and covers dating back to 1899

    10% Discount to MIT Technology Review events and MIT Press

    Ad-free website experience

  • Insider Basic {! insider.prices.basic !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Six issues of our award winning print magazine, unlimited online access plus The Download with the top tech stories delivered daily to your inbox.

    See details+

    Print Magazine (6 bi-monthly issues)

    Unlimited online access including all articles, multimedia, and more

    The Download newsletter with top tech stories delivered daily to your inbox

  • Insider Online Only {! insider.prices.online !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Unlimited online access including articles and video, plus The Download with the top tech stories delivered daily to your inbox.

    See details+

    Unlimited online access including all articles, multimedia, and more

    The Download newsletter with top tech stories delivered daily to your inbox

/3
You've read of three free articles this month. for unlimited online access. You've read of three free articles this month. for unlimited online access. This is your last free article this month. for unlimited online access. You've read all your free articles this month. for unlimited online access. You've read of three free articles this month. for more, or for unlimited online access. for two more free articles, or for unlimited online access.