Monday, January 05, 2004

Alternative Energy From Turkeyguts...(qualifies as Futurism)

Here's a National Geographic article on a company (Changing World Technologies) that seems to have found a way to turn the cast offs of meat processing into petrochemicals.

This is awesome if true. The company claims 85% efficiency and that has led to some cries of derision (Nuclear power isn't that efficient!), but they are referring to BTUs in versus BTUs out....85% is a big increase over other biomass systems. This UK site uses 21% as a baseline average efficiency and assumes all are below 30% ! Note that the usual biomass idea is to simply burn the product to produce heat for turbogenerators (as in the previous link) but the CWT idea turns it into oil that can be refined into petroleum fuel ( I assume even plastics). This is a big step forward. Biomass is usually either smelly or very light which makes it awkward to process. The idea of having a little oil refinery at each chicken farm or processing plant is a good one as it cuts on transport costs.

A different system is used in India which again short circuits the transport problem by decentralizing the system. There farms are being fitted with special septic tanks that vent methane thereby giving them gas for hot water and cooking. This is a big step forward and eliminates the need for wood gathering. It is not terribly efficient, but it is as efficient as it needs to be. Another somewhat similar idea is the gassifier one example of which is here. Again, this is relatively inefficient and immobile, but it is a decentralized infrastructure that marks a vast improvement over wood burning and not having hot water. CWTs system IF it works increases the efficiency to the point that it is viable in industrialized countries. Note that it WON"T solve all energy needs (I don't think we have enough arable land on the planet) but it is a good supplement to 'Nookuler' and Solar that uses our food and possibly even digestive waste to fill a big chunk of the hydrocarbon market....hydrocarbons are pretty useful even if you don't use them for fuel.

This also is a net 0 gain in carbon emissions because no "new" carbon is being dug up, our active carbon cycle is just being manipulated more efficiently....IF it works as advertised. It may not scale up to a big factory well or it may run afoul of ideology....

CWT is under attack from a public interest group because they may profit off a govt. grant (a Bush administration grant that was intended to act as seed money for alternate energy projects by companies)......that was the idea, that's why it's a grant....not a loan.

I asked a TA at ODU about CWYs claims back in November, initially enthusiastic, he suddenly became angry and dismissive when he realized that CWTs new tech could be compatible with the current oil infrastructure. He was pretty horrified that a clean source of oil might come along and yet it might not hurt the oil companies. To me this is a feature and not a bug....but then I'm silly that way.

For a lot of people hurting their enemies is more important than achieving their stated goals.