Comments on 'Changing World Technologies' Plan to Turn Garbage into Oil PAUL PALMER, Ph.D., CHEMIST / Getting To Zero Waste 9apr2005

I will .. pick apart the very heading of the article that began this all in Discover. It began with the heading "Anything into Oil" and proceeded in the article to flesh this out so: "The process is designed to handle almost any waste product imaginable, including turkey offal, tires, plastic bottles, harbor-dredged muck, old computers, municipal garbage, cornstalks, paper-pulp effluent, infectious medical waste, oil-refinery residues, even biological weapons such as anthrax spores.

" Now in your article, you, or the claimants, hoping no doubt to have a prayer of passing the giggle test, have backed off a bit by only saying this much: "The company says its process works on tires, various hazardous wastes, and plastic as well as heavy metals. " Most emphatically none of this can pass the giggle test but let me ask you, do you understand what is being said here? You are saying that this company has a process which can turn steel into oil (just to select one of the more obvious idiocies). Do you know that steel is almost a pure element, namely iron, which no chemical process can convert to carbon? Are you familiar with the alchemist's search for transmutation in which they tried to turn base metals into gold? At least they didn't turn base metals into carbon and hydrogen, which is pretty much what oil is. This conversion just happens to contravene the laws of physics as presently understood. Is that a good enough indictment of the frauds being perpetrated by these PR mavens?

Now let's look a little further, to the subheading "Technological savvy could turn 600 million tons of turkey guts and other waste into 4 billion barrels of light Texas crude each year ". Apply a bit of that skepticism that journalism once relied on. How many pounds is 600 million tons. Multiply 600,000,000 by 2000 to get 1200 billion pounds. Now lets look at the oil. Depending on your definition of barrel, one of them weighs 300 to 400 pounds. So multiply 4 billion by 300 and you get 1200 billion pounds. What a strange coincidence! These phoneys say they can turn every pound of mixed water, dirt, rocks, paper, steel, acetone, tars, polyethylene, concrete (and oh, yes, turkey scraps too) into one pound of - are you ready for this - not just oil, not just a grease derivative, but light Texas crude. The loaves and fishes story has now been left in the dust. Jesus must be biting his nails with regret that he didn't think of this.

Consider now the thrust of the article as it seeks to motivate such legerdemain. How is this magical trick to be done? Why, with thermal depolymerization! Surely any word with seven syllables has got to be capable of practically anything. Not only are we going to hit all of this mixed mass with seven syllables, we are going to mimic in minutes, the very process that the poor, ineffective earth takes millions of years to carry out, namely the conversion of turkey guts into petroleum. Did I hear right? These people have become experts on the origins of petroleum, a topic which is energetically debated by real scientists? Not only that, the process which forms petroleum in the earth is now revealed to be none other than thermal depolymerization. I don't know the chemical reactions that produce petroleum, but given the complex molecules and polymers in petroleum, I would have thought they would include the very opposite concept, synthesis and polymerization, not depolymerization. However, how sexy would it be to claim that you are producing an oil by a process having nothing in common with natural processes?

I could go on forever in this vein, but let me deal with the heart of the claims, in every publication I have read on this subject, including yours. It is the drumbeat of wonder that pervades the writing, the notion that this is something unique and previously unknown. Do you know what is being described here? A mountain of turkey guts, consisting of protein, water, grease, saccharides, bones and more is being subjected to steam. Out of all this, the grease is melted, steamed out, and collected. All the rest of it is left over. Some protein may be actually depolymerized leaving amino acids or just protein fragments. Most everything else is probably unchanged. As a pure guess, I would guess that 90% of the mass passes thru without significant change. Feathers, bones, dirt, are not going to be affected and if they are, or were, their breakdown products don't even resemble oil (excuse me, Texas light crude).

Let me speak to the attitude of marvel you surround this trivial operation with. This is something I learned to do from my mother and my guess is you did too. How many times have I put a turkey or chicken carcass into a pot of boiling water, cooled it down and skimmed off the grease? Is this a revolutionary technological breakthrough in your book?

But this is different you say. This is depolymerization. Can you explain to me what the polymers are that we are talking about here? Since you are not chemists yourselves, did it ever occur to you to actually ask a technically competent scientist what chemical process was being described? Obviously not, or you would never have written your silly article.

I have no idea whether all of that investment, and million dollar grant and plant building portion of the article is based on any reality whatsoever. I personally don't believe a word of it, but I base that only on my core belief that the companies and investors mentioned could not possibly be so gullible as to be able to be fooled by transparently impossible claims. But maybe I am wrong. The person who is charged with knowing, with actually investigating these claims is the author. I doubt that she did any of that.

Let me finish with one qualification. I have no doubt that this absurdly wasteful society is capable of producing mountains of animal trimmings with no plan whatsoever for further handling it. I believe that someone could put into place a plan to steam the mixed animal waste and extract the oils from it, for what that could be worth. I doubt that the energy value of the recovered oil would be even close to the energy input required to recover it. But that is why scientists who can do energy calculations are hired to do them. I have read a ton of publicity emanating from this company and I have never seen a shred of a careful calculation of anything. All I read is openmouthed, gee-whiz adulation of any claim these people put out. I have never seen any report by anyone that suggested they had seen any machinery actually depolymerizing anything. Until some unbiased, skeptical investigator, not awed by pie-in-the-sky claims, tests out and calculates theoretical yields and inspects machinery, inputs, and outputs, I will remain a total skeptic.

-- Paul Palmer, PhD.

Comments on 'Changing World Technologies' Plan to Turn Garbage into Oil PAUL PALMER, Ph.D., CHEMIST / Getting To Zero Waste 9apr2005


Anonymous Anonymous said...

What is the plant next to Conagra Foods in Carthage, MO doing then? Have you toured it?

6/03/2008 06:54:00 PM  

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