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From 11 May 2003 Issue

Put a Turkey in Your Tank
By Greg Lawson - ParkStRanger@aol.com 

I recently read an article in the May issue of the science magazine Discover that really gave me mixed emotions. The article was entitled "Anything into Oil," and described an incredible scientific breakthrough. A company named Changing World Technologies has perfected a process called thermal depolymerization that breaks down anything from municipal garbage to sewer sludge into gas, oil, sterilized water and minerals.

Other companies have tried to develop this process in the past, but the amount of energy needed to run the machinery was as much as or more than the fuel recovered. The CWT pilot plant began operation in 1998 in Philadelphia and was able to convert 7 tons of garbage a day into oil, gas, water and minerals. The process is 85% efficient, there are no secondary pollutants produced and everything distilled is of value. A portion of the gas produced is used to run the machinery.

It sounds too good to be true. This technology could indeed change the world, solving several of our biggest problems at once. It would mean a future with no more landfills, no garbage, no sewage problems, no wastes at all...the ultimate dream of recycling. If only the United States' agricultural wastes were subjected to this process, it would result in 12 billion barrels of oil a year according to CWT estimates.

Free of our dependence on foreign oil supplies, there would be no need for us to make up excuses to conduct wars in the Mideast, no need for oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge or at South Padre Island National Seashore, no need for transporting oil in sinkable boats across the seas.

CWT's patented thermal depolymerization process (TDP) breaks down the long chain molecular bonds into the shorter chains of petroleum hydrocarbons in the same way the earth changes organic material into oil over millions of years of tectonic plate shifting, heat and pressure. The difference is that TDP does it in the amount of time it takes to cook brown rice.

Anything can be turned into oil. Plastic wastes, medical waste and municipal waste and tires result in the highest yields. Organic wastes such as sewer sludge and agricultural byproducts yield a little less oil, but more sterilized water. Even metallic wastes such as computers and appliances can be reduced to oil and minerals.

Okay, so why do I have mixed emotions about this new technology that could solve so many of our problems? Construction has just been completed on the first commercial thermal depolymerization plant in Carthage, Missouri, right next door to a ConAgra Butterball turkey slaughterhouse. Shortly, the TDP plant will begin turning 200 tons of turkey guts a day into oil. Feathers, bones, guts, and turkey excrement will produce a gas to fuel not only the TDP plant and the slaughterhouse, but also yield oil for commercial sales.

Unfortunately, this endeavor will increase the monetary value of turkey and greatly increase profits for ConAgra, the second-largest food company. ConAgra kills approximately 30,000 birds per day at it's Carthage Butterball plant, and spends a lot of money to dispose of the wastes. Converting the wastes into oil will allow the plant to be seen as more "environmentally friendly" to everyone but the turkeys.

Currently, the plant discharges over a million gallons of slaughterhouse wastes per day to the City of Carthage wastewater treatment system. One of the company's waste lagoons was leaking a million gallons of wastes per month, but ConAgra did not close the lagoon until over four years had passed, and after six written requests by Missouri officials. The facility has been cited numerous times by state and federal officials for pollution violations of it's operating permit and has paid approximately $42,000 in fines (a drop in the bucket when you consider ConAgra has received 100 million dollars over the last decade just from the national school lunch program). Now ConAgra will have the motivation to recycle (higher profits) thanks to thermal depolymerization technology.

Changing World Technologies is working with major hog companies to build plants that run on the millions of gallons of hog waste that sits in lagoons across the Midwest. While this development is certainly good for the environment, it won't be good for the animals, and one of our big arguments for vegetarianism, pollution, is being eroded.

It's a mixed blessing. I would rather see this technology applied to plastic wastes, sewer sludge and municipal garbage. Being a vegan, I want to have a choice at the gas pump. I would always select the hi test sewer sludge over the unleaded turkey guts every time.

Go on to Environmentalists = Terrorists: The New Math by Karen Charman
Return to 11 May 2003 Issue
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