Welcome to European Tribune. It's gone a bit quiet around here these days, but it's still going.

Changing World Technologies (Inc) - The new face of oil?

by edwin Sat Nov 11th, 2006 at 07:27:09 PM EST

The oil crisis and the energy crisis are repeated over and over. What if the oil/energy crisis is overblown? What if there is no energy crisis at all? What if we have the technology to convert anything carbon based into oil at a price that is not significantly higher than what we are currently paying right now?

Discovery Magazine has printed three articles on a new process of converting organic material into oil.

In the May 2003 issue of Discover, an article titled "Anything Into Oil" drew a phenomenal reader response. The process described--transforming turkey guts, old tires, used plastic bottles, and municipal sewage into fuel oil--struck some readers as more like alchemy than chemistry and struck others as the answer to energy shortages, not to mention the solution to some of America's worst waste problems. Readers have been asking for an update on how the idea is progressing because our article left the story before the first full-scale industrial plant had been opened. We've been waiting for that plant to start up before writing an update, but because it has been delayed, we asked the author of the original article to give us a midterm report. After the plant is up and running long enough to be reviewed, we'll publish a further evaluation.
--The Editors


The followup article is here

That plant is up and running. Carthage, MO, May 19, 2004 - Renewable Environmental Solutions LLC (RES) today announced that its first commercial plant is selling an equivalent of crude oil No. 4, produced from agricultural waste products. The Carthage, Missouri, plant is currently producing 100-200 barrels of oil per day utilizing by-products from an adjacent turkey processing facility. It is not running at anything close to full capacity though. Full capacity is arount 500 barrels of oil per day. At peak capacity, expected to be achieved by the end of this year, the first-out plant will produce 500 barrels of oil per day, as well as natural gas, liquid and solid fertilizer, and solid carbon. This was in 2004. The latest press release Renewable Environmental Solutions, shipped more than 250,000 gallons (6000 barrels) of renewable diesel fuel in April 2006, representing approximately 30% of the plant's capacity. The plant is expected to achieve full capacity in the near future. Problems, but not failure.


Let me back up a bit and describe the process:

The Thermal Conversion Process, or TCP, mimics the earth's natural geothermal process by using water, heat and pressure to chemically reform organic and inorganic wastes into specialty chemicals, gases, carbons and fertilizers. Even heavy metals are transformed into harmless oxides.


In particular:

The first thing a visitor sees when he steps into the loading bay is a fat pressurized pipe, which pushes the guts from the receiving hopper into a brawny grinder that chews them into pea-size bits. Dry feedstocks like tires and plastics need additional water at this stage, but offal is wet enough. A first-stage reactor breaks down the stuff with heat and pressure, after which the pressure rapidly drops, flashing off excess water and minerals. In turkeys, the minerals come mostly from bones, and these are shunted to a storage bin to be sold later as a high-calcium powdered fertilizer.

The remaining concentrated organic soup then pours into a second reaction tank--Appel says the two-stage nature of the process distinguishes it from dozens of failed single-stage waste-to-oil schemes devised over the last century--where it is heated to 500 degrees Fahrenheit and pressurized to 600 pounds per square inch. In 20 minutes, the process replicates what the deep earth does to dead plants and animals over centuries, chopping long, complex molecular chains of hydrogen and carbon into short-chain molecules. Next, the pressure and temperature drop, and the soup swirls through a centrifuge that separates any remaining water from the oil


Current Cost per barrel of oil $80 US.

Lets talk Europe:

"We thought we would get $24 a ton for taking the waste," says Appel. "Instead, we are paying $30 a ton." That alone raises his production costs about $22 a barrel.

Which brings us to why Appel and his technology are likely to move to Europe. As the United States has crawled toward making its food supply safer, Europe has sprinted, eager to squelch mad cow disease as well as to stanch global warming and promote renewable energy. The result is a cornucopia of incentives for thermal conversion.

In Ireland, plant operators would get an astronomical $50 per ton to haul slaughterhouse waste away, another $30 per ton in carbon dioxide emissions-reduction credits, a guaranteed price of up to $92 per barrel, and a 20-year price guarantee. "In a 500-ton-per-day plant, our production costs would be under $30 a barrel, and we could sell for about $100 a barrel," Appel says. "It's just amazing."


This would potentially change oil into a renewable energy resource. It has some interesting possibilities. At the same time, lets consider some of the potential problems:

  1. Canada's tar sands will become even more economically exploitable. Canada's oil reserves are 2nd to Saudi Arabia - that's a lot more carbon in the atmosphere.

  2. Political instability in the Middle East.

  3. Continued support for our consumer life style.

  4. Continued support for cars over public transport - especially in the US and Canada.

I have to read more. This sounds like fact and figures time...

You can't be me, I'm taken
by Sven Triloqvist on Sat Nov 11th, 2006 at 07:51:09 PM EST
keep googling.  You'll find the plant had serious problems including smell issues that drove those nearby crazy.  And even at these prices they aren't profitable.

If it sounds too good to be true............

by HiD on Sun Nov 12th, 2006 at 01:40:36 AM EST
Isn't a bad smell easier to put up with than using Canadian sand tar to fertilize corn? Biodeisel is more "energy dense" than ethanol too.


by kevinearllynch (mr_kevinlynch@sbcglobal.net) on Sun Nov 12th, 2006 at 02:49:46 AM EST
can be if NIMBY takes control.

The number one test to apply to this technology is this:

It's been up and "running" since 2004.  With oil jumping from $30 to $80 you don't see anyone else jumping on the bandwagon.   And it's not because "big oil" or some other evil empire bought up patents or is conspiring to hide the technology.....despite what some tin hatters would say.

I'd love to see a heat and material balance around one of these plants.  I have a real problem believing a pile of mostly water (poultry waste) can be converted to a synthetic oil in any quantity.  Sounds a bit like a perpetual motion machine to me.

by HiD on Mon Nov 13th, 2006 at 03:37:14 PM EST
[ Parent ]
  • providing reliable feedstock is surprisingly difficult (reliable meaning: the right volume, provided on time, for the next 10 years) and that makes such projects extremely difficult to finance (a project of that kind if the only that I know of where we've had losses as a lender)

  • the total volume of upply for these things remains very small, and thus this technology can only cover a very small fraction of our needs.

This does not mean that it cannot be done, only that it will remain a marginal solution.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Sun Nov 12th, 2006 at 04:14:13 AM EST
I am with Jerom ein this. Marginal... doing the same with carbon it is  amuch more tested technology, cheaper with a couple of centuries of carbon available.

the only problem is of  course this little C02...

A pleasure

I therefore claim to show, not how men think in myths, but how myths operate in men's minds without their being aware of the fact. Levi-Strauss, Claude

by kcurie on Sun Nov 12th, 2006 at 09:41:57 AM EST
Forget about the plastics and old tires. Oil they were, and oil they shall be again. What are the world's stores of these wastes? New waste will be derived from oil coming from where, in our increasingly oil-poor world? Long term unsustainable.

Agricultural waist products: Let's consider these for a sustainable agricultural industry, which crucially would not use petroleum based fertilisers, or practise unsustainable water consumption.

Additional energy needs to be added to make fuel of the fuel stocks. How much, and how will this energy need be covered with reduced availability of geological hydrocarbons? What is the "energy efficiency" of this liquid fuel production mechanism?

It is a technology of interest, but only as a small piece in a much larger picture. It could be key in a vastly reformatted, sustainable society, with transport needs mostly covered by non-liquid fuel infrastructure. A fuel to be used in key transport that cannot be undertaken as electrified mass transportation.

by someone (s0me1smail(a)gmail(d)com) on Sun Nov 12th, 2006 at 10:53:05 AM EST
Going off on a tangent:

Based on my experiences in Canada:

If there is one thing about creating a business it is that it requires a sense of optimism. If there is one thing that (new) small business owners are - it's optimistic. You have to be optimistic to take the risks to start a new business.

The flip side is the bank. Banks are pessimistic, and from the perspective of taking risks - they don't like to do it - at least with new, small businesses.

My background is that of an owner of a small business. Quite optimistic. Our operating credit comes not from the bank, but from credit cards. Credit cards (at 5-15 points higher) are willing to take the risk for our operating line of credit, banks are not.

On one side there is an optimistic exuberance and the other side a pessimistic almost fatalism.

The ability to turn any carbon into oil is potentially profound. The ability to turn a new technology into a mature technology is a difficult process with all kinds of unexpected problems.

Jerome says it will remain a marginal solution. I admit that he has far more expertise than I do in answering this type of question. I can't help but feel that to a certain extent what remains a marginal solution and what becomes main stream has to do with things other than "does it work?" The split between those countries that use nuclear power and those that refuse to use nuclear power would be an example. The types of problems this technology seems to be having seem to me to be far less than the hurdles required in order to make nuclear power work. When it comes to "to good to be true", the promises of nuclear power and "too cheap to meter" are classic.

My impression is that there is a desire for it to fail, and that desire is projected in part onto the company. But then again, as a small business owner I am in some respects an incurable optimist.

aspiring to genteel poverty

by edwin (eeeeeeee222222rrrrreeeeeaaaaadddddd@@@@yyyyaaaaaaa) on Sun Nov 12th, 2006 at 03:00:35 PM EST
It's easy to be optimistic when you are speculating with other people's money.......

the driver for this business seems to be need to get rid of the processing wastes.  As soon as they are paying for feedstock instead of being paid to make it go away, they lose money.  that leads me to wonder if they are consuming more energy than they are producing if they cannot make money with diesel at $2/gallon ($84/bbl).

by HiD on Mon Nov 13th, 2006 at 03:42:21 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Mindfully.org note:
Of course it stinks -- its a rendering plant. But lets do some back-of-the-envelope math:

300 bbl x 42 gal/bbl = 12600 gal x (assume) 7.8 lbs/gal = 98280 lbs/ 2000 lbs/ton = 49 tons/ day of "oil."

49 tons of "oil" from 270 tons of offal. That's an 18 percent yield. Where is the rest of it going?

The process is probably just rendering out the fat content and doing a transesterification on it in the usual manner.

Nothing new here, but the high-volume hype.

from http://www.mindfully.org/Air/2005/Changing-World-Technologies12apr05.htm

by HiD on Mon Nov 13th, 2006 at 03:54:54 PM EST
[ Parent ]

Go to: [ European Tribune Homepage : Top of page : Top of comments ]