Skip to comments.Finally - a breakthrough for oil?
Posted on 12/08/2004 9:30:48 AM PST by ckilmer
Finally - a breakthrough for oil? Craig Morris 06.12.2004
A conversation with Brian Appel of Changing World Technologies
In 2003, Changing World Technologies made headlines in the United States and abroad with the announcement that it would be able to make oil out of just about anything. The company had been running a plant that processed seven tonnes of turkey offal per day into oil at a cost of around $15 per barrel. After a larger plant that processes 238 tonnes of turkey offal per day did not go into operation on time (due - the company says - to construction errors, not problems in the technology itself), skeptics began to wonder whether this was another fly-by-night operation. Now, at the end of 2004, all systems are go, with the plant running at 80% capacity. Craig Morris spoke with Brian Appel, the company's CEO, for Telepolis.
Mr. Appel, your company is drawing great interest both in the US and elsewhere for its promise to turn waste products into biodiesel at competitive prices. If I understood your company's spokesperson correctly, you just returned from Canada yesterday, where you met with US President George Bush and Canada's Prime Minister Paul Martin.
Brian Appel: I was invited by the Prime Minister.
So it seems that your company is the Real McCoy and not just another fly-by-night operation that is going to offer us free energy.
Brian Appel: We have put over $ 90 million into this company, and the reason other technologies are considered fly-by-night operations is that they do everything at the lab scale and are not able to take it to the next level. It takes more than just researchers; you need to look at everything from logistics to financing.
We hooked up with a big food company that was interested in using all the waste from the food chain without putting it back into animal feed. If you want to make the chain more sustainable, then you need do things like this. When we moved from our 7-ton plant in Philadelphia to the 250-ton plant in Carthage, Missouri, we had to redesign everything.
Look at the only other success story in biofuels in the US: ethanol. Some say it's not even a success story because without the subsidies it would never work. Ethanol is an additive for gasoline, while we produce a synthetic diesel. Ethanol also has a 30-year head start. Our plant in Carthage, Missouri is the first commercial one of its kind ever. And we are still tweaking certain parts of the design to enhance performance. I'm sure that the design of the next few plants to be built will be slightly different.
Where will these next plants be? Will they also process turkey offal?
Brian Appel: More than likely, they will process beef. The next plant will probably be in the British Isles. Remember that the British Isles received much of the blame for spreading BSE. There are now much tighter restrictions on the input side of the food chain there. Europe now protects its food chains, so we will get paid to "dispose of" the remains of cattle. In the US, we would not be paid because farmers can still take unused parts to a render, who will put it back into animal feed.
And then there is the output side. As you know, there is an EU directive stating that more biofuel has to be produced. In the US, the subsidies are basically for soybean and corn.
In addition, we are also able to sell a co-product as fertilizer because the United States is starting to promote organic farming. In Europe, we wouldn't get as much for this fertilizer because almost everything you do over there is organic.
Oh, we don't have that much organic here.
Brian Appel: Compared to what we do in the States, European farming is organic. Just about the whole rest of the world is farming normally compared to what we are doing. So here, I'm getting a premium because there's a movement over here to buy organic. If I go to Europe and sell this fertilizer, I have to drop my expectations to the level of normal fertilizer.
Granted, without the proper management - logistics, financing, etc. - your company would not be successful. But I think most people are interested in seeing that the technology behind it all really works. When I first heard about what you were doing a few years ago, I also rolled my eyes when I read that you wanted to speed up the process of creating oil down to 15 or 30 minutes.
Brian Appel: It takes about 15 or 20 minutes to run the process in the main reactor. But you are flattering me. We don't think our processes are that complicated.
So why didn't anyone think of this before?
Brian Appel: We had such an abundance of light crude oil. You used to be able to stick a straw in the ground in Texas - and you still can in Saudi Arabia - and light crude oil just comes bubbling out. But a lot of the light stuff has been used up, so we're dealing with more heavy oil now.
Second, we have now had 150 years to see what the impact of the use of all of this fossil oil is going to be. And since the sixties and seventies, there has been a growing environmental movement. In the US, Rachel Carson wrote Silent Spring, you had the beginnings of the Green movement in Europe, etc. So after the initial denial, we have begun to think about how to become more sustainable in the past 40 or 50 years and look for solutions for waste.
So people are just now looking for technologies like yours?
Brian Appel: Sure, but look back at some of the inventions that were made 100 years ago, especially in Germany. There was some amazing stuff. Ahead of its time.
One prime example being the fuel cell, whose basic design was developed all the way back in 1838.
Brian Appel: Right. But the time was not right. People have been using pyrolysis for some time, but that produces a very nasty by-product, and the oil companies complain about the quality of the oil produced by pyralysis and won't buy it. And electricity companies won't buy it because of the pollutants.
So we decided to do things backwards and start with the requirements. What does it take to meet the specifications for engines? Then, we basically added refinement steps after our initial stage. Refiners do the same thing: they take crude, desalt it, separate the light oil out, etc. So you can't do this in one or two steps.
You're talking about motor engines, and most people think about cars and trucks when they hear that. But your company sells most of its oil to a power company. Is there some difference between the engine that produces electricity in that plant and the basic diesel motor in a car? From what you just said, it sounds to me like you could produce for almost any specification.
Brian Appel: Power companies in the US have renewables portfolio requirements. So the utilities have to produce X amount of power from renewable sources. Over here, you go 1.75 cent tax credit per kilowatt-hour of green power. And quite simply, the company that helped us fund the pilot project simply needed more electricity in its renewables portfolio.
The main reason I'm asking about why the Biodiesel you produce is mostly used to generate electricity is because of a common misconception. Many people are calling for more solar power and wind power because we are running out of oil. But they are missing a crucial point: with wind power, we make electricity; with solar, electricity and heat. When oil starts to become scarce, we are going to mostly need motive power. That is why the potential of biomass, and hence of your company, is so crucial.
Brian Appel: We are working with the Big Three. Right now, we are working with DaimlerChrysler to develop a motor fuel. But we are also working to clean up the sector of heavy fuels, which causes most of the pollution. And there is one advantage to starting with stationary motors, like the ones used to generate electricity: you can easily see what the long-term effects of emissions are, what the wear is on seals, fuel line filters, etc.
Right now, we're facing a situation where engines will have to be tailored to these new biofuels. For instance, if you use biodiesel in a cold area, you might find that your fuel lines clog up because the fuel has congealed. People think complain that the fuel is bad, but the fuel's not bad - you just have to know how to use it. My fear is that the excitement about using biofuels might backfire. So if we use a blend in a stationary engine, we can better study what the long-term effects will be.
I have been working intensively with DESC, the Defense Energy Support Center, which is the biggest buyer of fuels in the world - that's the US military. We'd like to have the Post Office running on biofuels and get as many people as possible involved. And there are lots of other companies like us working on synthetic hydrocarbons that can serve as a transition to take us to the next level, beyond internal combustion engines, which is what I think a lot of people are shooting for.
And what is the next level, fuel cells?
Brian Appel: I don't think they're possible personally. Right now, the main supply of hydrogen comes from oil and coal, so there's a lot of hype.
Here's what we care about: the company's stated mission is to clean up this waste, produce a clean fuel, and minimized global warming because much less fuel would have to be dug up from beneath the ground. If we can do that, will have better quality of life, cleaner air, and our way of life will be more sustainable.
Mr. Appel, thanks for your time.
Turning Garbage into Oiland Cash
DAN FAGIN / Newsday 4apr04
Brian Appel will be the first one to tell you that selling chocolate, theater tickets and perfume was a lot simpler than saving the world by turning turkey parts into oil.
"When I first explain it to people, they think I'm nuts. I'm telling you, they think I'm nuts," said the 45-year-old West Hempstead entrepreneur whose latest venture is a local company that is getting nationwide attention with an astonishing technology that can transform almost anything -- from tires to turkeys -- into high-quality petroleum.
Appel and his financial backers have bet more than $66 million that the modern-day alchemy practiced by Changing World Technologies Inc. will revolutionize the way the world deals with its waste, reduce dependence on foreign oil, fight the spread of mad cow disease and even ease global warming.
Not bad for a 25-person company that Appel, who has no scientific training, runs from the top floor of a Hempstead Avenue china shop owned by his wife, Doreen.
The idea is, instead of having to pay someone to burn, bury or dump household garbage, medical waste, worn-out computers, animal parts, sewage sludge and all sorts of other carbon-based wastes, companies can use Changing World's patented process to convert their cast-offs into valuable fuels, industrial oils and fertilizer.
How? The same way Mother Nature does the job deep inside the Earth: with intense heat and pressure.
Speeding up Mother Nature
The difference is that it takes millions of years for the buried remains of plants, dinosaurs and other organic matter to break down into crude oil and natural gas.
Changing World Technologies gets it done in less than three hours and ends up with purer products.
Now the company's bold claim that it can turn a profit by turning garbage into oil is getting its first full-scale test in a small town at the edge of the Ozark Mountains.
In the last few weeks, a brand-new $31 million factory in Carthage, Mo., has begun taking in truckloads of bones, feathers, blood and guts from a nearby Butterball turkey-processing plant. The unique garbage-to-oil facility is a joint venture between Changing World and Omaha-based ConAgra foods, which owns Butterball.
At the experimental factory, which can handle up to 250 tons of animal waste per day, the turkey parts are mixed with leftover restaurant grease and with lots of water. The sticky, smelly mixture then runs a gauntlet of grinders, boilers, and separation tanks. Along the way, the mixture is heated up twice -- to about 500 and 1,000 degrees, respectively, and subjected to air pressures 50 times greater than what we feel on the Earth's surface.
The end results
For every ton of turkey slop that goes in, what comes out at the end are 640 pounds of clean-burning oils that are sold for use in fuels and manufacturing, 100 pounds of propane, butane and methane gases that are burned at the factory site to generate the electricity that powers the garbage-to-fuel process, and 60 pounds of solid minerals that are sold as fertilizer. Because each type of raw material -- tires, plastics or sewage, for example -- produces different grades and quantities of oil and gas, the company prefers to limit the process to one kind of garbage at a time.
Incredibly, the only "waste" that's left behind is distilled water. There are no smokestacks bellowing chemical-laden smoke, and no pipes discharging fetid wastewater. Plus, the plant produces more than enough fuel gases to power itself without using any additional energy.
"It's way too soon to know how successful they'll be, there's some real excitement out there" about the company, said Dan Reicher, who was in charge of renewable energy programs at the Department of Energy during the Clinton administration. He now runs a Massachusetts-based company that develops clean energy projects.
"This technology," Reicher added, "could be a real game-changer."
Changing World Technologies is just one of hundreds of small, start-up "biomass" companies all over the world experimenting with high-tech processes to extract energy from plants and animals. People have been getting energy from biomass ever since the first bonfire, and today biomass provides about 4 percent of the nation's energy, mostly through the burning of wood or garbage.
But many of the recent attempts to ratchet up the use of biomass through better technology haven't gotten off the drawing board because they're more expensive than conventional oil and gas production, or because they make fuel products no one wants.
'The next big thing'
Changing World, however, has managed to break out of the pack by building a commercial facility that is actually making quality fuel that can be sold at a profit, according to Appel.
It all sounds too good to be true. And that's exactly the problem Appel faces in selling the world on his company's "thermal conversion" technology.
Although Discover, Money and Scientific American magazines have all written wildly enthusiastic stories about the company recently -- Money called it "The Next Big Thing" -- competitors and independent researchers point out that Changing World Technologies has released very little information about the details of its patented process.
"You have to remember that people have been pressure-cooking different types of biomass for a long time now, and we really haven't seen these kinds of breakthroughs," said Ralph Overend, a leading authority in the bio-energy field and a research fellow at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colo.
"People always stay skeptical until they can see the real data," added Overend, editor of the academic journal Biomass & Bioenergy.
Appel said the company's focus has been on building the Missouri plant, not on publishing scientific papers that he worries could tip off potential competitors.
Skeptics also wonder about the project's profitability, and whether it can truly compete with traditional oil drillers and refiners.
Appel acknowledges that producing a barrel of oil through thermal conversion costs about 50 percent more than doing it by conventional refining. But he said costs are falling as the technology improves and that the Missouri plant is currently operating at a "small profit" because it's selling the oil and fertilizer it produces. If the price of oil keeps rising, he said, so will profits. Plus, he said, ConAgra no longer has to pay anyone to take away its turkey waste, which had been used as an ingredient in animal feed until the new waste-to-oil plant opened.
Some critics also question the company's assertion that thermal conversion works just as well with other types of wastes as it does with animal parts that are rich in fat. The company says its small-scale tests show it works efficiently with almost any carbon-based material, from plastics to hazardous waste, because they can all be broken down into the same essential components: oils, gases and minerals.
In fact, according to Appel, the Carthage facility is working so well that Changing World is already in advanced negotiations with food-processing companies to build even larger plants in Colorado, Alabama, and Parma, Italy, to use slaughterhouse waste from cows, chickens and pigs, respectively, to make oil.
Longer-term plans including building a tire-processing facility in North Carolina or Pennsylvania, and building a factory in Philadelphia to process sewage sludge from humans.
In five years, Appel said, he expects to be operating 10 large plants.
And a decade from now? "There will be thousands."
Son of a handyman
The man behind Changing World Technologies is a gifted salesman who got rich -- he won't say how rich -- by capitalizing on a series of remarkable opportunities in his life, and who now says his mission is to "clean up the mess that the world is in ... I call myself God's janitor."
The son of a handyman, Appel lived in Huntington as a young boy. His parents divorced when he was 10 and his mother married a wealthy real-estate investor, moving to a five-acre estate in Old Brookville. Soon after, his biological father drowned in an accident and Brian Garvey, the spackler's son, became Brian Appel of the Gold Coast.
Appel never felt comfortable in affluent Old Brookville and he didn't get along with his stepfather. "It was a respectful relationship, but not close at all," he said. At times, Appel seemed so unhappy that his basketball coach at North Shore High School, Carm Girolamo, even considered inviting Appel to move in with Girolamo's family, the now-retired coach recalled.
Appel didn't move out, but spent his teenage years riding his bike to Planting Fields Arboretum to draw sketches of trees and playing pickup basketball with tougher kids from Glen Cove. A gifted shooter, the 6-foot-5 Appel averaged 31 points per game his senior year at North Shore -- which he says was the highest average in the state that year -- and received an athletic scholarship to Hofstra University, where as a freshman he played on the team that went 23-7 and qualified for the 1977 NCAA tournament.
Salesman of the year
Nagging injuries eventually hobbled his basketball career, but he remains a fervent booster, giving summer jobs to Hofstra players such as Speedy Claxton, who now plays in the NBA.
"He was always a smooth guy, but not a snob at all," said his former coach at Hofstra, Roger Gaeckler, who now works as an investment adviser and has been watching Appel's company with interest. "He could wind up being an immensely wealthy man if this works out, but I don't think it will affect him. He's just a very unique kind of guy."
After graduating with a B average and a liberal arts degree, Appel took a job as a sales representative for Russell Stover Candies, winning its Salesman of the Year Award in 1981. The following year, on a snowy night at LaGuardia Airport, Appel offered to drive home an older gentleman he had just met on a plane.
The man was show-business entrepreneur Joseph Z. Nederlander, and he was so impressed by the gesture -- and by Appel -- that Nederlander called him a few months later and offered him a job with a new Nederlander venture that was experimenting with the then-novel concept of using computers to sell tickets over the phone.
By the time that very successful company, Ticket World USA, merged with TicketMaster in 1985, Appel was its executive vice president. He left with a severance package and was on to a new venture suggested by a new patron: a Revlon Inc. executive who appreciated the theater and sports tickets that Appel would get for him.
"It's funny what happens when you get powerful people their tickets: They want to help you," Appel explained.
The executive, Napoleon Cerminara, suggested that there was money to be made in buying and selling perfumes and other duty-free merchandise based on fluctuations in European currencies.
Making a change
"It was perfume arbitrage, and it was a very nice business," Appel said. The trading company he started, Atlantis International, ended up buying the rights to several lines of luxury perfumes, and Appel prospered. He still owns the company.
By 1997, Appel was feeling an itch to try something new, "something that would make the world a better place." That's when a friend-of-a-friend introduced him to a quirky Illinois microbiologist who held a patent for a process that purported to transform almost anything into oil.
The inventor, Paul Baskis, had struggled for a decade to find someone to finance his idea, and at first Appel wasn't especially impressed by the small group of investors Baskis had assembled. "I was intrigued from the start, but I just didn't think they'd be able to pull it off," Appel said.
But after thinking about it some more, Appel decided to invest "a few hundred thousand dollars" in the fledging company called Changing World Technologies -- enough to make him the largest shareholder. Soon, however, he was clashing with Baskis over the finances of the tiny company, and they both describe a nasty falling-out.
A legal settlement eventually awarded Baskis a permanent share of future profits. In return, the departing inventor agreed not to try to develop a competing technology.
'Back to the drawing board'
For a while, though, there was little reason to think there would ever be any profits to share. Appel said the first oils produced by small-scale test devices that used Baskis' process were loaded with impurities, and thus had no value.
"We called them methyl ethyl death -- they were completely worthless," Appel said.
"So we went back to the drawing board and started adding more steps to the process, and we started to see progress," he said. Appel, the non-scientist, ended up immersing himself in the details of polymer chemistry; his name is listed first on three pending patents the company filed after Baskis left.
After two years of tinkering, the quality of the oils improved, and by 1999 Appel and his growing company were building a research-and-development plant at the Philadelphia Navy Yard to see whether thermal conversion would work on a larger scale.
It did, and in 2000 Changing World Technologies formed a joint venture with ConAgra called Renewable Environmental Solutions to commercialize the technology in its first targeted industry: animal waste. Construction of its first project, the Carthage plant, was completed earlier this year.
Baskis, a self-described "curmudgeon," still maintains that the post-1997 changes were minor. "It's my technology, with some sophisticated separation and distillation equipment added," he said in an telephone interview.
Appel "can be the big man if he wants, I really don't care," Baskis added. "He just better send me a check every month. That's all I care about it."
Small company, big names
The unlikely nerve center of "The Next Big Thing" is the upper floor of the China Connection figurine shop on Hempstead Avenue, across the street from the Melendez Beauty Salon and Li's Convenience & Deli.
The company's engineering team works in a converted barn behind the shop, and Appel's three school-age children sometimes wander into business meetings -- the family lives a block away.
"I don't care about appearances, I don't have to impress anybody," Appel explained. During a recent interview, he looked crisp in a cobalt-blue Polo dress shirt -- until he stood up to make a point and one of his shirt tails was hanging out.
His investors, too, are practically an extended family: Most of them are either business associates from his previous careers or old friends from Hofstra.
The chairman of the university's chemistry department, Rodney Finzel, is a consultant to the company as well as an investor. Ira Silver, who lived in the same dormitory as Appel and was later his personal accountant, has raised $16 million from family and friends. Another longtime friend, David Katz, convinced his business partners to kick in more than $5 million. Appel won't divulge his own "considerable investment" in Changing World Technologies.
But if the group is homespun, it's also high-powered. Katz is a partner in Sterling Equities, the real-estate firm that owns the New York Mets. Silver married into the family that owns Max Finkelstein Inc., the largest independent wholesaler of Goodyear tires in the nation.
Silver, Katz and other investors say that while they believe the waste-to-oil technology has tremendous potential, what they are really investing in is Appel. "Brian is charismatic, he's the kind of guy who people just love," said Silver. "He's been successful with anything he's touched. I call him the human can opener: If he needs to get to someone, he won't stop until he gets to them."
Appel's combination of charisma and persistence has also attracted big names to his company's staff. Changing World Technologies' president, Alan Libshutz, is a former top executive at Salomon Brothers, Merrill Lynch and Bear Stearns. Executive vice president Franklin D. Kramer is a former assistant secretary of defense. And the biggest name of all, former Central Intelligence Agency Director R. James Woolsey, is a special adviser to the company as well as an investor.
The association with ConAgra has brought in other powerful friends, including Howard Buffett, a ConAgra board member and son of the famed billionaire investor Warren Buffett.
Appel's well-connected team has helped him raise more than $36 million from private investors and $30 million from ConAgra, an agribusiness giant with $14.5 billion in annual sales.
Compared to other startup energy companies, Changing World has also shown a knack for landing grants from government agencies and industry institutes -- more than $15 million so far. A $3.5 million grant from the industry-funded Gas Research Institute built the company's research facility in the Philadelphia Navy Yard, and the federal Environmental Protection Agency kicked in $5 million toward the cost of the Carthage plant.
Thanks to the efforts of the company's Washington lobbyist, John Stinson, an early draft of the omnibus energy bill Congress debated last year would have provided a bigger bonanza: a tax credit worth about $5 million for each Carthage-sized plant the company builds. The final version, which passed the House of Representatives but narrowly failed in the Senate, included a subsidy of $150,000 per plant.
Appel and his wealthy backers don't apologize for seeking government help, saying they're only trying to compete fairly with much more heavily subsidized processes, especially ethanol fuels synthesized from corn.
"There's no reason why our government shouldn't be funding a technology which is going to help decrease our dependance on foreign oil," said Silver.
What Appel hasn't done is to issue stock and take the company public. Thanks to media coverage, he said, Changing World has received more than 25,000 unsolicited e-mails from people who have read about the technology, many of them seeking to invest. Appel has turned them all down, and says he plans to keep the company private for at least another two or three years, and perhaps much longer.
But that didn't prevent him from getting a phone call from an investigator at the federal Securities and Exchange Commission last summer, after the story appeared in Discovery magazine. The SEC, the investigator said, thought Appel might be exaggerating his company's prospects so he could take Changing World public and make a killing as its stock price soared.
"They thought we were hyping the market. I didn't even know what that term meant. I had a wonderful conversation with the investigator and that was the end of it," Appel said.
An SEC spokesman, John Heine, said the agency never discusses its investigative activities.
"People think there has to be a Machiavellian plot twist at the end of this movie that says they're going public, but we're not even considering it," Appel said. "We have all the money we need to do this the way it needs to be done. We're going to do this the right way, carefully, because if you build this too fast, I guarantee it's going to collapse. And we're not going to let that happen because this technology is too important."
To find the research and development offices for Changing World Technologies, you take a rutted road to a far corner of the old Philadelphia Navy Yard, which was sold by the government in 1995 and is now a sprawling industrial park of rusting ships and small, bleak factories.
From the outside, the company's metal-sided building blends right into the Rust Belt setting. But inside, it's a different story.
On a recent winter morning, Appel escorted a group of visitors through the plant, gesturing toward the huge labyrinth of boilers, pipes and wires that dominates the building. Now that the even larger Missouri plant is up and running, the company has shut down most of the equipment here, using the building for small-scale testing of new waste materials and to demonstrate the process to potential business partners.
A mad cow cure?
This day's visitors were long-range planners from the U.S. Navy who are intrigued at the idea of someday building waste-to-oil plants on naval bases and even on ships.
In another corner of the building, a worker was preparing to cut up a salmon and run the fish bits through a small apparatus bolted onto a table.
The "bench-top" model simulates the thermal conversion process on a very small scale, and the company uses it to test what kinds of petroleum various types of garbage will produce. The worker would later move on to test a ground-up mixture of plastic and glass from scrapped cars -- another potentially lucrative market for the company.
When the roar of a lawn mower engine caught Appel's attention, he motioned his visitors over to another part of the building used for demonstrations.
"It's running on turkey oil!" Appel shouted over the noise.
Selling the process to potential partners is easier than it used to be, according to Appel, because of ConAgra's $30 million investment and the recent media attention.
There's another reason why Appel has been entertaining more visitors at the Philadelphia plant: His technology, he says, can fight mad cow disease.
Mad cow is the common name for bovine spongiform encephalopathy, a disease that infects the brain tissue of cows and kills them. While experts are still unsure about the risk to humans, outbreaks in England, Washington state and elsewhere have shown that it can spread readily from animal to animal.
Exactly how it spreads is still a mystery, but a leading theory involves the same slaughterhouse waste that Appel's process can turn into oil.
Only about 50 percent of an animal carcass, the meatiest parts, are sold as food for humans. The rest, traditionally, has either been dumped in landfills or trucked to rendering plants.
There are more than 200 of these rendering plants in the United States, and they boil down billions of pounds of blood, bones and feathers every year, turning the animal parts into a dried protein-rich material that's used to make tallow, lard, cosmetics, and lubricants. The material's main use, though, is also the one most troubling to the spread of mad cow: it's a major ingredient in meat-and-bone meal fed to livestock and pets.
Concerned that some rendering practices could be spreading the disease to cattle that eat infected feed, the federal government has been imposing tough new restrictions that are prompting some meat-packing companies to look for alternative ways to get rid of their waste.
"It's an opportunity because our process completely destroys" the infected proteins that cause mad cow, Appel said.
Environmentalists, who have long decried pollution from "industrial farming", including slaughterhouses, are intrigued by Changing World's process but also concerned.
They're excited about the opportunity to control problems ranging from mad cow disease to water pollution. Yet they point out that to make a profit, companies that use Appel's technology will need easy access to huge volumes of waste, at centralized locations, because trucking waste for long distances is too expensive.
That means family farms and small slaughterhouses will be at an even bigger competitive disadvantage than they are already, because their waste is too widely distributed to be sold profitably, they said.
Environmentalists also aren't sure whether they should be cheering the technology's promise of much cleaner air, or worrying that it could delay a shift away from an oil-based economy to even cleaner sources of energy.
If it's made from garbage, petroleum suddenly becomes a "renewable" resource that can be produced without smokestack emissions that contribute to global warming, a chronic problem for oil refiners. And because the bio-fuel doesn't contain sulfur, ash or dioxin, it's much cleaner than most conventional fuels when burned in power plants or in engines.
Yet even though it's cleaner, bio-fuel still generates some pollution when it's burned. That bothers activists who think the United States should be moving away from the use of any petroleum and instead should be embracing even cleaner technologies such as wind and solar power.
"It's a complicated mess of interacting issues, and it's hard to draw a clear line through it. But the bottom line is that these animal waste-to-energy technologies have real promise and they need to be pursued," said Nathanael Greene, a senior policy analyst at the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental group.
Appel acknowledges that, for now, his process only makes financial sense for very large producers of waste. He said the next few plants Changing World builds will need to handle much more waste than the 250 tons per day treated in Missouri, in order to be as competitive as possible with conventional oil and gas.
Right now, he said, the Carthage facility produces petroleum at the equivalent price of $15 per barrel -- about $5 more than what it costs a small oil company to find, extract and refine petroleum the conventional way.
Appel said those costs will go down as the plants get larger and more efficient. He talks of a utopia in which technical breakthroughs will allow even very small waste-to-oil plants to be profitable, thus spreading the wealth to family farms.
The secret to the technology, he said, is that it doesn't have to be as cheap as traditional oil refining, it simply needs to make high-quality products at a reasonably competitive price. The biggest savings will come, he said, because companies won't have to pay high prices to bury their waste in landfills, burn it in incinerators, or pay renderers to truck it away.
The entire field of biomass energy research is predicated on the same idea, which is why entrepreneurs are rushing to find better ways to get energy from sources as diverse as discarded sugar cane stalks and waste from paper mills.
Horse race develops
Some ideas have already managed to find a niche. For instance, most large landfills now include piping systems that capture methane gas formed by decomposing garbage and burn it to generate electricity. Thanks to generous government subsidies, dozens of large factories that ferment corn into ethanol are springing up across the Midwest and supplying fuel to many parts of the country, including New York.
Most biomass schemes, however, have struggled to demonstrate that they can compete financially with traditional oil and gas exploration.
But experts say that may be changing, as the price of oil rises, the costs of waste disposal increase, and as governments begin doing more to subsidize alternative energy due to concerns about global warming.
"There's a real horse race going on with regard to the processing of organic materials into energy, and Changing World Technologies appears to have a very good horse in the race," said Reicher, the former Clinton administration official.
Appel and his colleagues fervently hope so.
William Lange, the company's director of engineering, remembers the days when the thermal conversion process was nothing but an idea in Paul Baskis' head. Initially a consultant to Baskis, Lange was the first man Appel hired when he took control of the company in 1997, and Appel later persuaded him to move from Illinois to Philadelphia when the navy yard facility was built in 1999.
"I always believed it would work, even way back in the beginning," said Lange. "I look at everything with rose-colored glasses, and not with a jaundiced eye. We're all big dreamers. Otherwise, we wouldn't be here."
source: http://www.newsday.com/ny-app0404,0,3347489,print.story 4apr04
Sounds kinda junk-science-ish to me.
There is no reason, outside of the sick influence of Big Oil, why the US needs to import a single barrel of oil from the various IslamoFascist hellhole states.
Of what country is Mr. Appel a citizen?
Interesting. Hope it's for real.
I have an associate in NJ that currently holds licensed technology from LSU converting solid waste into crude oil. His company is producing any grade (API) crude oil the clients desires with no residual or EPA issues. The production cost is less than $14.00 per barrel. This is truely amazing technology.
What's turkey offal?
Research: Pig Manure Can Become Crude Oil
Yahoo ^ | 04/13/04 | JIM PAUL
Posted on 04/13/2004 10:24:01 AM PDT by m1-lightning
URBANA, Ill. - A University of Illinois research team is working on turning pig manure into a form of crude oil that could be refined to heat homes or generate electricity.
Years of research and fine-tuning are ahead before the idea could be commercially viable, but results so far indicate there might be big benefits for farmers and consumers, lead researcher Yanhui Zhang said.
"This is making more sense in terms of alternative energy or renewable energy and strategically for reducing our dependency on foreign oil," said Zhang, an associate professor of agricultural and biological engineering. "Definitely, there is potential in the long term."
The thermochemical conversion process uses intense heat and pressure to break down the molecular structure of manure into oil. It's much like the natural process that turns organic matter into oil over centuries, but in the laboratory the process can take as little as a half-hour.
A similar process is being used at a plant in Carthage, Mo., where tons of turkey entrails, feathers, fat and grease from a nearby Butterball turkey plant are converted into a light crude oil, said Julie DeYoung, a spokeswoman for Omaha, Neb.-based Conagra Foods, which operates the plant in a joint venture with Changing World Technologies of Long Island, N.Y.
Converting manure is sure to catch the attention of swine producers. Safe containment of livestock waste is costly for farmers, especially at large confinement operations where thousands of tons of manure are produced each year. Also, odors produced by swine farms have made them a nuisance to neighbors.
"If this ultimately becomes one of the silver bullets to help the industry, I'm absolutely in favor of it," said Jim Kaitschuk, executive director of the Illinois Pork Producers Association.
Zhang and his research team have found that converting manure into crude oil is possible in small batches, but much more research is needed to develop a continuously operating reaction chamber that could handle large amounts of manure. That is key to making the process practicable and economically viable.
Zhang predicted that one day a reactor the size of a home furnace could process the manure generated by 2,000 hogs at a cost of about $10 per barrel.
Big oil refineries are unlikely to purchase crude oil made from converted manure, Zhang said, because they aren't set up to refine it. But the oil could be used to fuel smaller electric or heating plants, or to make plastics, ink or asphalt, he said.
"Crude oil is our first raw material," he said. "If we can make it value-added, suddenly the whole economic picture becomes brighter."
Zhang's site: Zhang's site: http://www.age.uiuc.edu/faculty/yhz/index.htm
Through the use of extreme pressure combined with high heat, their process breaks down basically anything put into it into metal residue, light crude, and an organic powder (as I recall it from an article over a year ago).
It is a phenomenal concept. However, sending landfill waste all the way to one of these refiners just wouldn't seem to be cost-effective for now.
The idea of putting them near animal processing plants is good. However, I'd love to see these things everywhere.
all the turkeys in the supermarkets are slaughtered but not all the turkey makes it to the supermarket. the parts of the turkey that don't make it to the supermarket are called turkey offal. the plant in missouri turns this turkey offal into oil. we're talking a lot of turkey offal.
here's a pdf on it if you want more detail
> Through the use of extreme pressure combined with high heat
I assume they're getting out more potential energy than they are consuming in the process, otherwise what is the point?
It is a phenomenal concept. However, sending landfill waste all the way to one of these refiners just wouldn't seem to be cost-effective for now.
I think the ticket would be to put one of these refineries on site at say peerskill in NYC. In fact, the way you would do it would be to put these plants on site of every municipal sewage and garbarge disposal unit of every large city in the country.
What a compelling article - I read every word.
Well, the dictionary defines offal as the waste parts of a butchered animal, like entrails. Other definitions are "refuse," "garbage."
I assume they're getting out more potential energy than they are consuming in the process, otherwise what is the point?
I think they're 85% efficient meaning that of the energy potential of 100 lbs of turkey offal --15 lbs is used in the conversion process. The other 85 lbs becomes oil.
Here's a link to the original discovery magazine article back in may 2003
More detail today. The sun came up again too, only today I can see it - yesterday it rained.
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