Jan 14, 2010

Making Gas from Trash

Chuck MisslerBy Chuck Missler

Even as gas prices climb during these cold winter months, the US Army is investing in technology that promises to convert garbage into oil. We reported in the December 18, 2009 eNews about technologies that use algae and bacteria to turn straw, wood chip and cooking oil waste into usable fuel. The US Army is hoping to make the trash that it would normally incinerate into diesel through a catalytic depolymerization process that mimics the way oil is formed under earth's crust.

Anytime the Army goes into a foreign country, it has to make sure its personnel and their vehicles are properly supplied. That means millions of gallons of gas have to be transported to support US forces, often in the middle of hostile territory. According to the US Government Accountability Office, the US Department of Defense supplied forces in Iraq and Afghanistan with an average of 68+ million gallons of fuel every month in 2008. That's a lot of fuel transport convoys – convoys that can get attacked.

Garbage disposal is another issue in foreign lands - because the Army can generate quite a bit of trash. Getting rid of that waste can be a problem because it's expensive to build incinerators that will only be used for a year or two, and burn pits produce smoke that can cause health problems.

The US Army hopes that it can solve both difficulties by taking its garbage and turning it into diesel fuel through a process that uses pressure and heat to break long chain polymers like plastics into short-chain petroleum hydrocarbons - trash to gas.

Old Way #1: Burn It:

The idea of turning waste into energy is not new. The US-based company Covanta operates more than 40 power plants that each take local garbage and burn it in order to heat water that turns turbines that create power. Burning trash for power plants is a useful idea, as long as the plants employ air-pollution controls like Covanta's plants. The leftover ash is then transported to landfills at a fraction of the garbage's original weight.

Old Way #2: Superheat It:

A process called pyrolysis has also been around for awhile. Pyrolysis involves breaking down organic matter by heating it to extremely high temperatures and is used in the chemical industry to produce charcoal or methanol from wood, or to make the PVC plastic used in water pipes, or syngas (synthesis gas) from biomass.


The process the Army wants to use is different than either of these. The German company AlphaKat has developed what it calls the KDV (Katalytische Drucklose Verolung) process, a catalytic low pressure depolymerization of waste materials. Covanta has gotten into the action and is working to use AlphaKat's patented catalyst to develop this technology for the Army.

Basically, what is supposed to happen is this; metals and glass and sand are removed from trash, leaving only plastics and other carbon-based materials like food and paper. This waste is dried and chopped up and mixed with used oil. Then, a catalyst containing aluminum, sodium and silicon is added, and the whole mess is dumped into a turbine that spins at 3000 rpm. Inside that spinning turbine all the organic matter is broken down to a pure hydrocarbon diesel that is just like the stuff that gets drilled out of the ground - and at a much faster rate than oil is created naturally. Throw the stuff in the mixer, spin it, and in three minutes you've got oil.

Not only does this process allegedly turn garbage into fuel, but all the gasses and liquids are contained in the specially-designed turbine itself. It's environmentally friendly and supposedly cost-effective.

The question is, does KDV really work? Have they actually taken milk jugs, banana peels, and leftover burger bags and turned them into oil, or have they succeeded only in making diesel out of used cooking oil, which isn't half so big a deal?

The Army Corps of Engineers seems to have some faith in the technology, and so does Covanta. The company wants to do more than just supply the Army; it is planning to develop the technology for plants in the United States and keep more garbage out of landfills by putting it into people's trucks.

We look forward to future developments.

Related Links

Army Hopes Trash-To-Diesel Project Can Lower War-Zone Risks, Costs - The New York Times
AlphaKat's KDV Vision - AlphaKat
Covanta's Energy From Waste 101 - Covanta
Covanta, Global Energy Partner to Test Waste-To-Diesel System - BioFuels Digest
Learn the Bible in 24 Hours - Chuck Missler (Book)