Oil from Waste: Straw into Gold
By Brenda Cooper, 2003
Remember the Grimm?s Fairy Tale about the miller?s daughter who can spin straw into gold? There may be a real-life equivalent story available soon?or at least, the ability to spin straw into oil. Or turkey guts into oil. Tires into oil. Agricultural waste in oil?and the list goes on.
The May 2003 issue of Discover magazine featured an article by Brad Lemley called Anything into Oil about a new process called “Thermal Depolymerization (TDP).” The company behind the process is Changing World Technologies. This is big-plant technology: The first commercial plant is currently being built in Carthage, Mo., and to me, it looks kind of like a refinery. It’s certainly got an industrial look. But imagine the possibilities of an industry that turns almost any carbon-based waste into high-grade oil?
This is what we call a “wild card.” What would change if we could become independent of foreign oil in a decade or so (if everyone could become independent of foreign oil)? What if we could resolve a large portion of our waste problem at the same time? Sewage processing plants could have oil for output. Toxic site cleanup could be easier, faster, and cheaper (TDP can take a number of toxic products as input). Yes, it seems counterproductive to environmental concerns to implement something that could increase oil consumption. Nevertheless, TDP is a better choice than pulling oil up out of the ground, it could allow geographical re-distribution of oil production, and TDP’s by-products appear to be clean minerals, gasses, and water.
This is no longer brand-new news, but enough articles have appeared that we think it may have staying power. It’s certainly way too early to tell how Changing World Technologies will fare in the real world, but I think this is a company, and a process, to watch.