Hold on to your butts, because the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) in Washington has figured out a way to turn last night’s bean burrito into black gold- Texas tea.
They do it using a process called hydrothermal liquefaction, where scientists put poo sludge under pressures of 3000 PSI and cooked at 572 degrees Fahrenheit.
In a couple of minutes, this does what the earth takes millions of years to do – make biocrude oil.
“It makes a lot of sense to do something with the sludge because they have to dewater it which is both expensive energetically and economically. Then they have to trek it to a landfill and pay expensive fees there. So what we’re doing is offering them opportunities to turn it into something useful,” noted Corinne Drennan, the head of Biotech Programs at PNNL.
The biocrude then can be processed into fuel. So, it goes from the toilet to the gas tank, making you the generator of a renewable resource.
And because everybody poops, American waste water treatment plants go through 34 billion gallons of sewage each year, which could fill 5,000 Olympic swimming pools. That is a lot of crap to swim through.
This method would generate about 30 million extra barrels of oil each year- which is enough to drive your hybrid car to the sun and back 1000 times.
“I find it exciting because it’s something you can do at a smaller scale and it’s economically viable. When you think about renewable resources- they’re distributed and they’re highly variable,” Drennan expressed. “They’re not petroleum that goes into a refinery, so you have to be open to working with technologies that you can scale down as opposed to scaling up. In this particular case, you can modularize- where you can have economies of mass production as opposed to economies of scale.“
But it doesn’t just stop at human waste since the process can also be used to treat agricultural waste or any other wet organic feed-stock such as food waste.
The laboratory has partnered with Vancouver and is planning to start operations in 2018.
And while it may not be the most supreme solution for our energy efforts, it’s a step in the right direction to make us think outside the box and try harder to turn our useless crap into something productive.
“Projects like these have a lot to do with tackling our energy problems one slice at a time. There is no silver bullet. This is only going to provide a small fraction, even if all the waste water facilities have this.
"This, combined with other technologies can keep working toward not having to import petroleum oils from other countries., added Drennan.
Just goes to show, one man’s turd is another man’s treasure.