Home / Thermal Depolymerization: Is It Is or Is It Ain’t?

Thermal Depolymerization: Is It Is or Is It Ain’t?

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Everyone seems to be busy discussing thermal depolymerization these days.

Is it junk science or the promise of a future where we need not rely on imported energy fuels or even fossil fuels at all?

The debate gets hot and heavy at times, and veers into biochemical debates difficult for a layperson to follow. Yet, the evidence in support of thermal depolymerization seems to be encouraging. It's not a new technology, just one that was not efficient enough to be practical before. In fact, to this layperson, it seems that thermal depolymerization, or "thermochemical conversion of biomass", is essentially the same geological process used by the earth for millions of years to do exactly the same thing, except with TDP it is run by humans at a much faster rate of conversion.

Up until recently, TDP was impractical because of high processing costs, low yield, impurity of yield, high energy input requirements or other problems, depending on the particular methods and equipment used. The excitement now is because Appel claims to have developed an efficient TDP process that is self-fueling and has a high-quality, high-volume yield, according to feedstock.

This report (Thermochemical Conversion Of Swine Manure To Produce Fuel And Reduce Waste by Zhang, Riskowski, and Funk), while lacking in grace and in want of an editor, has a fairly lay-accessible description of the process as undertaken by the authors as well as information regarding the need for such a process and the results of other experiments.

Appell and colleagues (1980) focused on converting organic wastes to oil in batch and continuous mode. The results show that bovine (dairy) manure was not readily to be converted to oil at 250°C or lower, but with the treatment of CO and steam at 380°C and 40 MPa (6,000 psi) resulted in high conversions of dairy manure to oil. The conversion rate was 99% and the oil yield was 47%…

Another important finding in Appell's research is the function of water in the thermal conversion process as a solvent and a reactant. This is even more important in the conversion of livestock manure slurry where a large quantity of water exists and dewatering is infeasible costly. Taking advantage of water content in raw manure will greatly value the conversion process, not only producing energy but also lightening the wastewater intense from livestock farm…

Through thermochemical conversion technology, the conversion rate of organic matter in the raw manure can be as high as 90% or more (Appell et al., 1980; White and Taiganides, 1971). The solids and the wastewater are separated and COD in the wastewater is greatly reduced. The successful TCC processor shall be an on-site unit that directly processes fresh manure from the barn. Thus, much less storage is required. TCC processor will be compact and much less space occupying than those of biological treatment processes such as lagoons and digesters do. Another benefit of such a short period of manure storage time is the odor reduction – less storage time means less odor emission.

As a successful TCC unit for a large confinement hog farm, the energy needed for running the processor is most likely self-sustainable, i.e., the liquid fuel produced from the TCC processor could be used as the energy input for the processor needs. With the major portion of the organic solids removed from the swine manure, the post-processes waste is most possibly suitable for municipal treatment with a simple pre-treatment. The solid residues are greatly minimized and convenient for disposal.

[Lots of useful info for clarification on this issue presented through embedded links.]
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About Marla Caldwell

  • Fascinating.

    Blogcritics: who knows what hot topic will be tackled next – it could be masturbation, it could be thermal depolymerization.

  • Eric Olsen

    Excellent topic Marla, we also talked about it a couple weeks ago here

  • Tom DeGisi

    Stephen Den Beste talks about the feasibility of biomass energy here and here. It may work, but it won’t be a very large source of energy. If it was, we would be doing a lot more farming (for energy instead of food) which would be very hard on the environment.

    —- Yours,
    —- 3om

  • Eric — Love the Soylent Green reference. :-0

  • Tom J — Doing what I can to promote topic diversity. 🙂

  • Tom D — If I may, I’d like to quote from the Discover magazine article which brought this to the popular science forefront recently:
    Just converting all the U.S. agricultural waste into oil and gas would yield the energy equivalent of 4 billion barrels of oil annually. In 2001 the United States imported 4.2 billion barrels of oil.

    That refers to agricultural waste alone — turkey guts, swine manure, corn husks, etc. According to Appel, with the right times and temperatures — something they have already established for numeous varieties of feedstock — TDP can convert any carbon-based substance. Sewage, industrial waste, and common household and business waste could all be converted. Refrigerators, batteries, stale bread, newspaper, old furniture — anything that would ordinarily end up in a waste processing plant, landfill, or garbage barge to be dumped in the ocean could be processed.

    According to this site, “all of U.S. industry produces 300,000 tons of hazardous waste annually.”

    According to this site, “In 1998, the United States produced 6.5 billion tons of waste. […] This waste includes components from raw materials extraction, materials processing and manufacturing, materials dissipated into the environment during product use, and post-consumer and municipal wastes. This volume of waste is increasing annually, as is total resource consumption. With the simple addition of future population growth, the increased social, environmental and economic stress from resource use and waste will only become worse.”

    It seems to me that is probably adequate feedstock, at least when combined with conservation efforts and continued developent of alternative fuel sources, to nearly eliminate fossil fuel imports and forestall energy-purpose farming. The DOE certainly seems to think biomass conversion is a promising technology, though they are apparently focusing on ethanol production.

  • M. Simon

    I’m surprised that there is no mention of: The Deep Hot Biosphere (Copernicus/Springer-Verlag, $27) by Thomas Gold.

    He thinks oil comes from space and some high temperature biologic process not depolymerized fossil trees and dino flesh.

  • theotherwaldo

    -Several points that everyone seems to be missing:
    First, oil companies don’t have to build thermal depolymerization plants from scratch. All that they would have to build are the shredder, thermal digester, flash-depressurization gear, and solids separators. The rest of the process is handled by standard cracking and blending equipment.

    Second, comparing this process to alcohol, biodiesel, or even hydrogen is like comparing oranges and apples. Thermal depolymerization can fit into today’s lifestyle seamlessly.
    (Have you ever tried to start an alcohol-fueled vehicle on a cold day? And then de-ice the throttle body on a hot day? Or clean up a fuel system after a bad batch of biodiesel? Whew!)

    Finally, who is it that so thoroughly dislikes and distrusts this idea? Seems to me that the main enemies of thermal depolymerization are the professional prophets of doom and their friends, the social sculptors.
    I tend to judge an idea by its enemies, and this one seems to upset the right people.

    Up Thermal Depolymerization!

  • dr mac

    well stated points

    WRT “I tend to judge an idea by its enemies. . .”

    By extension, would this mean that by getting into bed with the ‘devil’ you have (or will) come to know the will of God?

  • Drdirt

    What I want to know about TDP is where does the nitrogen and sulfur end up. Hog manure, turkey guts, and other such materials contain lots of N and S. The non-volatiles (Ca, Mg, Fe, etc. end up in the solids, but N forms ammonia under some conditions, such as reducing conditions, and seems a likely product of TDP. It is also the simplest route for deamination of amino acids on their way to becoming oil. Likewise, sulfur can assume many chemical guises, of which the most likely seem to be hydrogen sulfide or pure sulfur. Any TDP techies out there figuring this one out? It seems ike an important point if the output is to be non-polluting.

  • Daniel Waters

    Hey if that discover article is even remotely accurate and I could assuming I find the resources build Thermal Depolymerizer under my motor home including distiller then I should be able to build an Ambient Heat Condensing Generator also and convert to a hybrid and add solar panels then I could begin a Techno Gypsy Tribe adventure
    Daniel Waters
    19024 Elderberry st sw
    Rochester WA 98579
    Please contact me if this stuff appeals to you

  • Drdirt,
    Nitrogen and sulfur are byproducts of TDP, as are various other chemicals such as carbon, in varying amounts according to feedstock. The byproducts are pure, however, and ready for use in industrial processes requiring their input. Even if the need for those chemicals doesn’t meet the supply, the volume of byproducts which would be waste is a tiny percentage of the volume of waste which is rendered useful through the process.

  • Daniel,
    Where were you when Jack Kerouac needed you?

  • theotherwaldo (#8) – I personally distrust the idea (though I don’t dislike it) because I’m skeptical of anything that promises a quantum leap forward from today’s technology. Few times in history has a really big leap come with essentially no warning, but many many many times in history one has been promised and then been found impractical or outright fraudulent. The odds do not favor converting pig poop into free energy for all any more than they do room-temperature fusion.

    Every point I here that makes it more appealing makes it less likely to be real, in my view. Don’t need new equipment? Don’t need extra energy? Low startup costs? Gee, do I get a set of ginsu knives too?

    It doesn’t help that the people pushing it have a background in business, not science, and that reputable scientists don’t seem to have had much access lately. Normally how these things work is that they’re published in peer-reviews journals. By going the money-making route instead, the creators are inviting skepticism. Of course, there are valid reasons for not subjecting yourself to the scrutiny of your peers if you’re concerned about protecting trade secrets, but given the strong protections of patent law and the relatively low cost of filing for patents, those reasons evaporate. So why then would someone avoid the scrutiny?

    I hope it’s true, because not only would America’s dependence on foreign sources go down, but this technology could theoretically be used to bring cheap hydrocarbon energy to places like centra Africa. That’s probably a pipe dream, though, as the oppressive governments in that region tend to avoid anything that might empower their people.

  • R Allen

    It appears that some people think that TDP is free energy. It is not. It is CHEAPER energy. It is going from a natural source (oil deposits), to an artificial source (processors), much like going from salt mines to synthesized potasium chloride. There is no such thing as a free lunch, but there are cheap ones.
    Comparing the costs of waste transportation and treatment coupled with the cost of searching and drilling for oil deposits in accordance with federal EPA laws, TDP looks like a down-right cheap alternative. It looks like the only people that won’t benefit from it are the people that sell natural crude oil (Middle East) and drill for it (the roustabouts).

    Oil is the only major source of foreign money into the Middle East that I know of. I think that without it, they will quickly revert to a poor third-world country, instead of being the rich third-world countries that they are. I think that area of the world is going to do everything that they can to derail developement and slow deployment of the technology, to acquire as much money as possible and have time to diversify their holdings.

  • TDP is not free, and as R. Allen pointed out, there are transportation, equipment, and other related costs (staff, bureaucracy, TDP plants, etc.). However, compared to the costs of importing crude and refined petroleum products, current waste management technologies, environmental cleanup of wastes manageable by TDP, waste storage, landfill lawsuits, and other related costs, I’m pretty sure it would end up a net gain.

    Also as R. Allen pointed out, petroleum is by far the middle east’s biggest export, making investing in TDP a smart national security move. Force the middle east to diversify their economy and put the countries (not just the rank-and-file citizens) through an economic squeeze, and you end up with a region more amenable to doing business with the rest of the world and less inclined to throw large sums of money toward terrorism efforts.

  • Eric Olsen

    I just like the idea of fuel from turkey poop – I don’t care WHAT it costs

  • I hear ya Eric. And the fact that manure of several kinds — poultry, swine, bovine, human — is a big pollution problem in numerous rural communities doesn’t hurt. Hey, and you could make fuel from sh!t AND Shinola.

  • #16 – Every provider of “free” energy similarly paints his snake oil as “not free, just cheap,” so that in and of itself isn’t convincing.

    Look, things that sound too good to be true usually are. This has been discussed here before. The numbers from the original article didn’t add up – the writer was claiming zero energy cost in one place and 15% from within the system in another. Both are ridiculous. Can oil be made from crap? Sure, it has been done before. The question is, how efficiently/cheaply.

    These guys haven’t produced the kind of information needed to make that judgement, and there is no legitimate reason why they haven’t. Hope may spring eternal, but I need more to back up this claim: “We will be able to make oil for $8 to $12 a barrel” than I’ve seen so far.

    I hope they can do it. I’m not saying that they absolutely can’t or that it is impossible. But this seems to be being treated more like a marketing exercise than any sort of real advance in science so far, which worries me.

  • charles dodsworth

    From my own viewpoint, the greatest possibility I saw in the Discover magazine article was its potential to handle toxic waste. Superfund projects would become economically feasible and we may be able to reclaim dumpsites and landfills, Garbage scows would no longer pollute the oceans and new methods of resource recovery may be feasible. For example, the toxic waters of the Anaconda mine sight could potentially be used along with municipal waste to produce minerals and oil with the flashed off water returning to dilute and detoxify the former open pit mine. Appel has stated that the process handles mixtures very well and I am hoping that the enormous potential suggested by this technology is realized. It truly does sound too good to be true but by couching his pitch in terms of economic gain, Appel may have found a pathway to saving the environment.

  • Please pardon me if the idea that these folks “may have found a []way to sav[e] the environment” doesn’t exactly provide me with any more assurance that it’s true. The more wonderful claims made about this process, the less I believe that the process could work.

    I hope I’m wrong, but I’ll wait to see it working before I invest anything. 🙂

  • Max Kislik

    I really think the US government should subsidize oil/gas made using TDP to the same extent (at the least) that it is subsidizing Ethanol.

    If you believe the $12 figure per barrel of Oil figure mentioned in Discover magazine, such a subsidy will make commercial investment in TDP much more attractive.

    Over the long term, we can improve national security by reducing our dependence on Oil from unstable countries in the mideast and otherwise.

  • Philip Patten

    Subject: Thermal Depolymerization, False Claim of Lowering Atmospheric CO2 Levels

    Re: Discovery Mag article @ http://www.discover.com/may_03/gthere.html?article=featoil.html “its backers contend it could also stem global warming…So the only carbon used would be that which already existed above the surface; it could no longer dangerously accumulate in the atmosphere. ‘Suddenly, the whole built world just becomes a temporary carbon sink,’ says Paul Baskis…”

    TDP is delightfully promising, however: Baskis made one claim probably false, that it would be better for global CO2 levels than mined oil, etc. Where the carbon comes from or how much lies around on the surface of the planet in old tires and tree stumps probably doesn’t matter for CO2 levels. What determines atmospheric CO2 levels is whether we burn carbon faster than plants photosynthesize it back into carbohydrates. TDP converts waste (which would mostly remain as disposal site solids) to fuel (plus water and and minerals), freshly available to burn into global warming CO2.

  • Wally

    Any news about the construction project in Carthage MO? It will be interesting to see if the demo plant is able to meet the needs of a medium sized meat production facility. And if the industrial application is financially beneficial for a real, profit dependent company. Making oil at $12 a barrel is nice, but saving the company a couple of million a year in transportation, storage and disposal costs is just as important. Conceivably they could sell the oil at a loss and still be happy.

  • Malcolm

    Phillip, your comments about the invalidity of claims that this process would help reduce atmospheric CO2 levels is a good one. However, if the oil created in this way replaced oil from underground petroleum products, wouldn’t it reduce the total CO2 input into the atmosphere?

    Even if the majority of products which would be utilized for oil manufacture “would mostly remain as disposal site solids”, as you say, it seems that at least a portion of these solids would gradually, or not so gradually, become oxidixed to CO2 over time. Certainly the organics deep in a landfill don’t break down in any rush, but other organic sources, e.g. cow manure, sewer plant and septic tank sludge surely do!

    I’m waiting with bated breath for more news on this subject.

    To everyone: I agree that what seems too good to be true usually is. The key word is “usually” (I’ve made enough money to retire on, almost, by closing “too good to be true” real estate deals….

  • GBS

    Have any thermal depolymerization plants been built? Are they working?How about the CWT plant processing turkey waste?

    Processing animal and human waste sounds like a great idea, given that the runoff from factory farming might be responsible for algae blooms and pfisteria infestations.

    I also thought the Discover article didn’t go far enough with the ability of this process to wipeout prions and other infections agents that get spread by one species feeding on the processed remains of another.

    If CWT or any other firm think they have it down, there should be tours offered to promote the technology.

  • robert J. Petesen

    TDP may or may not work. Until the company lets out some info we will have to wait. Since the process seems to have so much potential and there is so little information coming out I become more skeptical daily.

  • I’ve been following this story for a while and I’m excited about the potential for oil from refuse. Tires, old asphalt, toxic waste, sewage, otherwise unrecyclable plastic film, etc. to oil is awesome! I can’t wait to see how this process performs.

    As far as the CO2, I don’t think this process will result in reduced CO2 emmissions. In fact, it may have the opposite result. Think of what the natural oil deposits were made of. Carbohydrates, right? They’ve been laying in the earth for a long time turning into hydrocarbons. Well, here we go with our SUVs and minivans and turn that stored carbon loose as CO2. Fortunately, we’re a wasteful society and we throw carbon back into the ground as landfill. What happens when we’re burning both the oil and coal from the ground AND we’re burning the reclaimed landfills in our SUVs? MORE CO2. I hope APPEL has a brother that is working on photosynthesis machines that are more efficient than plants so all this carbon can be absorbed. Or, we could starting burying trees to put the carbon away. Or, we could all build large houses out of real wood to store the carbon. How about we build lots of airplanes with carbon fiber to store it?

    Either way, I don’t think anyone is going to suffer much from excessive CO2 as long as they’re high enough on the food chain that they can afford A/C.

  • michael roberts

    I believe the basic cycle can be reduced to the following:
    Carbon based fuel is burned and the byproduct, CO2 is released into the atmosphere.
    Plants remove CO2 from the air during the process of photosynthesis.
    Global warming results from elevated levels of CO2 in the air due to increased combustion while the rate of CO2 consumption by plants stays at the same (or even reduced) rate.
    Whether or not the fuel comes from below the earth, or from the surface doesn’t really directly affect the increase/decrease of global warming. What does matter is the rate at which CO2 is released, as compared to the rate at which it is removed from the air. IF TDP is able to produce less expensive fuel, people will likely consume more of it. (All the SUV drivers will care even less if their car only gets 6 miles/gallon.)
    Therefore, although I’m very excited about this technology, I would expect that there will be a net increase in global warming as a result of TDP.
    Unless there are some accompanying new emmission standards…

  • It is interesting to see the volley here of skepticism and optimism. I am writing a very intensive article on this subject, for which I am doing research this month. From the research that I have done so far, I have seen very viable possibilities that this process will be useful to us in the not-so-distant future. It is true that there will be some waste, some costs, some things it can’t process perfectly, and that it will not fix all aspects of our environmental or economic problems…nor will it fix any of them completely. I urge those of you taking a highly critical standpoint to regard the technology for what it is–view it with its alternatives in mind. The decision to release the machinery as a manufacturing system rather than an environmental system is kind of brilliant for many political and red-tape oriented reasons. A machine which can produce profit or save on costs, rather than save the world, is easier to pitch to those who have the disposable incomes to consider it as an option. Furthermore, it looks good on paper. Whether we find the business world ethical or not, it is the driving force behind Western society. Without it, many people with just causes have gone unheard. Perhaps we should consider the balances of a possibly imperfect, but benign machine, in light of the costs and effects of our existing waste disposal *problems*. We should consider news of its success fairly and calmly, with the realities of human nature, and mother nature in mind. If we have criticisms, we should seek solutions, and avoid dissuading progress made thus far. I am glad to see so many interested people discussing this issue. I will check back frequently, and when my article is complete, I’ll be more than happy to post a link here. –s

  • Serena Andrews

    …dissuading people against progress made….

  • Chris Callen

    I am a 14 years old freshman currently attending Maize High School just norht of Wichita, KS we are currently running many TDP cases and are being very successful with that. Also we have a group of debaters that is currently trying to push the TDP technolgy on the city commisioners of Wichita. We appeared once with no result. We are now working with two men, both on the “waste disposal” comittee. One of them, Rhoades, owns land zoned for THermal Depolymerization/Incinerator we are gearing up again for another shot at the commisioners, any advice or fact thats you believe would be beneficial to our project please let me know at my posted e-mail. Thank you for your interest

  • Eric Olsen

    Chris, you should follow up with Serena, and Serena we will be very happy to see the results of your research when you are finished.

  • I contacted Discover magazine and asked if the author of the article was going todo a follow up. A couple hours later, I got an email back from the editor telling me that yes; he was going todo a follow up and it was going to run sometime next year.

    I’ve written to my senator and asked that they investigate and propose using TDP facilites instead of drilling in pristine environments as a solution to reducing or eliminating our dependence on middle eastern oil.

  • TurboFX,
    Thanks for taking direct action on this issue. I have also contacted my senators and asked them to oppose drilling in the wildlife refuge, and asked presidential candidates to place alternative energy (including TDP) as a high priority. It is good to hear that Discover plans a follow-up on this important issue.

  • Robert Moskowitz

    Today, searching Google on this subject (I have been following it off and on since May) I found the following:

    “Blunt Secures $12.4 Million Investment in Turning Agriculture Waste into Fuel”


    So there is gov interest at some level on this technology. There is a lot of “heat” here debating this techology. Yes it does eliminate a ‘sink’ for CO2, replacing a ‘source’. Will it be a net win or loss? Hard to say. But the cost of waste disposal warrents developing this techology. Everything else is gravy.

  • Theo

    For the curious here is a site report of the Carthage facility.


  • nine lives

    i just read a story in nytimes about the
    difficulty of safely destroying diseased animals like mad cows, for instance.

    TDP seems a safe and cost effective way to handled this kind of waste. it also seems superior to those tissue digestor machines that still produce waste needing further treatment.

    the nytimes article can be found at http://nytimes.com/2004/01/06/health/06COW.html

  • Tom

    I’m a mechanical engineer and have been working on hydrothermal technolgy since the early 1990’s. While the TDP technology looks very promising indeed, beware of all those peripheral claims about producing industry-ready byproducts.

    The Baskis patent isn’t the only way to generate synthetic crude hydrothermally.

  • Robert J. Petersen

    What is happening to Changing World Technologies Co. There website has been silent for months. Are they successful in Missouri in producing 600barrels of oil a day from Turkey waste?

  • Greg

    TDP in the news

  • Donald Franck

    We are highly interested in this process and certainly understand that nothing as beneficial as this process will be easy to do, but clearly, if the people who are working on the process can see progress and a light at the end of the tunnel, the idea is golden. We support their efforts and wish them well.

  • bjhanson

    “pollution is nothing but the resources we are not harvesting. We allow them to disperse because we’ve been ignorant of their value.”
    Buckminister Fuller

    “After a few more flashes in the pan, we shall hear but very little more of Edison, or his electric lamp. Every claim he makes has been tested and proved impracticable.”
    New York Times, Jan 1,1880

  • -Greg!

    Vegas conferance report on Carthage plant.

    To summarize: Their processing about 200 tons per day into 500 barels of API 40+ oil, 7 tons of carbon, 8 tons of mineral fertilizer and 12 tons of nitrogen fertilizer.


  • maynard

    no one has brought up the political aspect of this. the people who monopolize all of our current energy sources are the same ones trying to develop this one. there will be no money saved and passed onto the consumer–there will only be money made by the tech and corp investors–and then passed onto the govt.

    remember music formats in the early 80’s? everything was cassette tape. difficult to make, unreliable and low quality (though we didnt know the difference.) then comes along compact disc. wow! shiny, easy to produce–i.e., cheaper and faster–higher quality sound, less physicality. and what happened? THEY DOUBLED THE PRICE.
    we the consumer now pay twice for an album on cd even though the technology should have made it cheaper for us. it has only gotten significantly cheaper for record companies to produce, thus increasing profits. cassette $8—cd $16.
    you may say that was because that was so long ago, but the price changed instantly…so economy and inflation are not to be factored in.

    the same thing will happen again. the govt is not interested in creating energy sources that are cheaper and better for us or the environment. it is only interested in control over global markets. they must maintain a monopoly and then INCREASE their profits–not maintain the same profits. the goal is to bankrupt other developing nations who pose a threat and then force them to come to us for their resources. with globalization, the middle east has become too difficult to control. therfore they must be reigned in by any means possible. we dont need their oil. this is why china has built the 3 gorges damn. so they can be independant of the US’ growing control over energy and resources. this is all a game that is going to play out maybe even a 100 years into the future.

    also mad cow is not destroyed by high pressure or heat. it does not break down under any extreme conditions: heat, pressure, radiation, or oxygen deprivation. its a protein mutation not a virus or bacteria. so vaccine and antibiotics wont work either.

    and is anyone going to address the nitrogen and sulfur waste concerns brought up earlier?

  • Larry Gonzalez

    An earlier commenter asked about other products from the process nitorgenated, sulfinated, volatile and non-volatile metals. In gasification based process operating at temperatures sufficient to slag silca cyanide, ammonia, mercury, cadmium, hydrogen sulfide, hydrogen chloride, and lead can all be produced in the off-gas, but all of these substances can be removed using available scrubbing technologies and in most cases the removal cost are far below those for combustion processes that utilize large volumes of air.

    The technology has advanced, the costs of waste disposal has increased, and the cost of fuels and energy has reached the point that these technologies now appearing to be cost competitive with traditional fuel technologies.

    TDP could offer a satisfactory solution to both waste disposal and energy production.

  • -Greg!

    Maynard, you need to stop listening to other peoples propaganda (and maybe the voices in your head.)

    The price of music has been well documented as an artificial market, not based on materials cost. If you really want to check out abusive market behaviors, look into diamond prices.

    It makes total sense for oil companies to take notice of TDP, they already own an infrastructure to store and transport it.

    A market economy is designed to charge the highest price the market can bare for a given supply rate. It’s not a perfect system but so far works better than any of the alternatives.

    As for what the government is interested in, they want to stay in office, so they tend to do makes the majority of the voting public happy, and paying for a clean environment has been frequently shown to not be high on the public’s mind.

    Most 3rd world nations are in a shabby shape because of regional-ideological conflicts, not social-economical disparities.

    And as for your statement about prions (leading theory on cause of Mad Cow), you have been misinformed. Do some research and you’ll find that the prion protein is not indestructible, but are effected by heat and pressure much the same as a steak from the store is.

  • Linda

    Nitrogen? Waste? What planet are you from? Do you have any idea how much is spent in agriculture to boost the nitrogen content in the soil? Nitrogen doesn’t sound like waste to me. If the agri waste scenario works out, agri waste in – nitrogen fertilizer out not to mention the fuel cost of farming could be off set by the fuel produced by TDP.

    In reference to political will or lack there of. Our politicians are “elected”. If they can’t/won’t support/advocate, shouldn’t we all be looking in the mirror?

    In reference to prions, if they are proteins, it might be useful to remember how “fragile” the bonds between amino acids are by comparison to other molecular bonds. According to basic biochemical principles taught and demonstrated to undergrads, nature has never invented a protein that can’t be degraded to individual amino acids through readily available processes (heat and pressure being two of these processes). Is the mutation exhibited in the prion protein destroyed when the protein is disassembled to individual amino acids? Can amino acids even survive the heat and pressure of the TDP process?

  • jet

    I started this site a few days ago. This site is meant as a focal point to find out if TDP really works.

    There has been all sorts of conjecture.

    There is no doubt if CWT claims are anywhere near true, it should be rolled out asap. Lets open the box and see whats inside, instead of studying and talking about what might could be be in there.

    Any help is welcome and appreciated

    If we can determine by independent review that this is for real, we will apply pressure as a group of concerned citizens.

    What are we waiting for –

  • Grindel

    TDP has two uses: waste conversion and hydrocarbon production.

    Waste conversion is a goal in itself. Some waste, such as manure and sawdust, is from biological origin. Others, such as tires, plastic toys, and flashlight batteries (flashlight batteries? carbon-zinc.), are far removed from their origin. Some are considered pollutants, some as litter (a plastic toy is just a fragile soft rock). People are paid to dispose of such garbage and trash.

    Hydrocarbon production creates a portable high-energy fuel. A TDP plant is intended to produce crude fuel, with the elegant conversions by a refinery left to be done by such a facility.

    The combustion of TDP fuel will increase carbon dioxide in the atmosphere if the raw material was not from biological origin, such as rubber tires from fossil petroleum. If the raw material is from recent biological origin, such as rubber toys made with rubber from trees, then a plant extracted the carbon from the atmosphere and combustion does not increase carbon dioxide.

    A TDP plant which is only being fed agricultural products is consuming carbon dioxide which was removed from the atmosphere by plants. Such a situation is creating fuel from carbon dioxide, using solar energy through photosynthesis. It’s a solar-powered carbon dioxide recycler.

    The TDP plant will probably not totally consume the carbon fed to it, so it will also be producing carbon in solid form. If this is not eventually burned then this is carbon being removed from the atmosphere. Yes, leftover carbon might be fed back in the plant to ensure there is plenty of carbon despite variations in material. But some will be left over.

    Incidentally, removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere is cheap enough to sell it in soft drinks. A TDP plant could suck carbon dioxide directly from the atmosphere. Chemists among the readers are invited to find other raw materials which might produce hydrocarbons from raw CO2.

  • Robert Moskowitz

    Tires processed through TDP will produce less pollution that those buring in uncontroled tire-pile fires. (remember that one a few years ago involving millions of tires?).

    As for sucking CO2 from the atmosphere for softdrinks, the beer industry dominates the CO2 supply market….

  • Don B

    There was a question earlier about where the nitrogen and sulphur in the organic inputs wind up at the end. In the paper present by Brian Appel and others at the Power-Gen Renewable Energy Conference, a diagram shows those elements coming out as ammonium sulphate (fertilizer). In addition, both come out in the fuel gas output.

    The diagram, which is for the Carthage, MO plant, also shows an input of sulphuric acid, in weight about 1.7% of the turkey offal.

    Another diagram shows energy flows. There is an input of about 100 kW of electricity, a goodly amount, but small in comparison with the oil output. In fact, the excess fuel gas and elemental carbon output could provide the fuel to generate all the electricity if burned in a modern, efficient plant.

  • EvilSnack


    If the energy companies really controlled our government, there would be no gas taxes, no regulation of the energy industry, energy companies would enjoy full liability immunity, and drilling of the Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge would be well underway.

    If you think that any of these are remotely close to being true, please take your meds.

  • Paul Katona

    I have been folllowing the TDP story since it came out in Discover last May. I’m an engineer and a teacher and a sceptic by nature, but I couldn’t punch a hole in their story. Everything seemed to make sense. Especially after I had a little time to think about it and did some additional reading. Everything except why aren’t people getting more excited about it? Why aren’t we building these plants everywhere?

    I live in Springfield MO, not too far from Carthage where CWT has built their TDP plant to process turkey offal from the Con Agra plant. A story on rense.com says that the plant is now working and producing something like 200 barrels of oil a day.

    I have grown quite frustrated with the lack of information about this project to support all the claims and speculation. BECAUSE IF EVEN PART OF WHAT THEY CLAIM IS TRUE, TDP IS WAY TOO IMPORTANT TO BE DEVELOPED AS A PRIVATE INTEREST. We can’t afford to wait around while big corporations try to milk more profits out of their existing infrastructiure. IT IS PARAMOUNT TO OUR GLOBAL SECURITY, ECONOMY AND ECOLOGY THAT THIS BE DEVELOPED AND DEPLOYED AS RAPIDLY AS POSSIBLE.

    I propose that we urge our government through some form of PAC to do the following:

    1) Appoint a select congressional committee of scientists, engineers and economists to quickly study the process to see if CWT’s claims and numbers hold up. (I would nominate someone like Michio Kaku as chair)

    2) The federal government should then subsidize the design and construction of a number (say 50) TDP plants to treat municipal waste in the most favorable locations.

    3) We should also subsidize the construction of a limited number of regional solid waste TDP plants for specific types of waste. EG: one type of plant could process old tires and compatible petroleum byproducts; another plant could treat farm waste.

    4) The fuel from these plants should be used to generate electricity for the municipal utilities. This may require conversion or new construction of electrical generation equipment. A bureau should be established to find uses and markets for other by-products such as fertilizer or asphalt for road construction.

    5) To pay for these the federal government should put a tax on any carbon based fuel that is removed form a carbon sink (mined or drilled) as opposed to using carbon sources (our waste products) that would break down and and enter the atmosphere as carbon dioxide anyway.

    Yes, I understand that government can be very inefficient and even wasteful. But business is timid when profits are not assured. Government needs to take the initial risk. Once these plants are built business would be more efficient at building and running new and improved versions.

    This is as strategic and important as the Manhattan Project our government’s effort to buld a nuclear weapon in WWII. It has to be more important than putting the first man on the moon, a major accomplishment but of little practical value. We are fighting wars over oil. Our balance of trade is grossly in the red chiefly because of imported oil. We are headed toward global ecological disater because of our removing carbon from below the surface and putting it into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide.

    WE can do this. We’d better do this. Its going to take a ground swell of popular support as established interests cannont see past their own profit motives and our politicians seem reactionary rather than proactive.

  • BrB

    Look here for information on CWT/Conagra/RES plans for a new TCP plant in Colorado.

  • BrB

    Followup on the proposed Colorado plant: the 40 acre site is on 300+ acres of Conagra land, next to the “Mile High Turkey Co.” and across a county road from (1) an auto junkyard, and (2) (very interesting) “Tire Mountain, Inc.” a major-league used tire recycling company that has, it says, 19+ million old tires on site, and which apparently received local approval last year to expand.

    I have no information on CWT’s plans for Nevada and Alabama, and only a vague idea of their intentions at the cheese factory in Italy, but it looks to this interested observer as if CWT wants to clearly demonstrate the effectiveness of TCP on as many types of industrial waste streams as possible as quickly as possible.

    More power to’em.

  • jet

    please visit my site

    I have written DOE asking for their technical and economic evaluation of the Carthage plant.

    It looks to me like TDP TCP is working. We should verify that and if so start to apply political pressure. Like Paul Katona says this is just too important.

    All concerned citizens please contact me
    contact info at the site – thanks

  • Anonymous
  • Marcus Foster

    The idea of cheap, domestic,
    environmentally friendly oil production is an exciting prospect. After some research, I have yet to come up with thorough, professional, unbiased analysis of the scientific and economic merits of TDP. Peer review is the foundation of good science and without it, TDP is just another faulty idea that didn’t work because it’s proponents failed to properly have the idea validated by independent scientists. I am encouraged by reports of company scientists, but only after independent reports are published, will I have the confidence to make a judgement on the feasibility of TDP.

  • -Greg!

    Bit of a lull in TDP/TCP discussion. CWT needs to start a blog of their own.

  • John

    TDP works. A few teething problems in making the jump to continuous production but nothing out of the ordinary or that hasn’t been worked out. I work in the lab at Carthage.

  • Dave

    I have to chuckle when I read comments that TDP science has not been peer reviewed and therefore must be a failure. If you have a process that demonstratively works, peer review or the lack thereof is irrelevant. To all you “pure science” adherents, sorry folks, that is reality.

    ConAgra must feel satisfied that the process works well enough at Carthage, MO to build a 400 ton per day plant near Greely, CO. (Interesting that they picked a spot near one of the largest used tire dumps in the country! Especially because the Philadelphia pilot plant indicated that tires were a good feed stock for producing oil.)

    CWT is a privately held corporation. They are doing everything right to develop this process in the most efficient, cost-effective way possible. I suspect they will want to have four or five operating plants in production before licensing the technology widely.

    When they can go to the markets with a proven operating technology, they will have more than enough money waiting to invest. (I, for one, will keep an eye peeled for their initial public offering!)

    I suspect we will see a substantial amount of oil production from this source in the next twenty years. Even better, we will see a substantial reduction in landfill use and sewer pollution.

  • Dave, can you point to a comment that says that since TDP has not been peer-reviewed, it must be a failure?

    I suspect you’re referring to my comments, which most certainly make no such claim. My statement was that they had nothing to lose with peer-review, and much to gain. That’s all. They’re a commercial interest, so it is in a sense understandable that they want to avoid the process, especially if they don’t trust patent law to protect them.

    Given comments like the one above which seems to insist that TDP should be wrested from the hands of its creator and federalized, I’m less surprised.

    So now that the plant is apparently running at full capacity, we should expect to see more detailed reports on what the energy cost is, right?

  • Eric Olsen

    Marla, we hardly knew ye

  • greg orr

    The fact (?) that Conagra is building a second plant seems reassuring that the process is working. As a Green Party candidate here in the pollution state (NJ), I plan to make it a campaign feature, not principally as an energy source, but as a solution to PCB’s, medical waste, and perhaps even for the treatment of organic industrial waste. TDP begs the question: if any organic waste material can be safely converted to energy and other chemical feedstocks, then why should we as citizens tolerate smokestacks and outflow pipes, especially in light of the long term health costs? In related news, NJ now has the nation’s first solar hydrogen home. A 10 kw pv array powers a 4-bedroom house, with excess electricity going to a hydrolysis unit to make hydrogen, which is stored at 250 psi, and fed into a h. fuel cell to regenerate juice when needed. Maybe we’ll add another 10 kw and see how many miles we can put on an electric fuel cell car, without ever having to pull up to the f*!@%ing pump again…

  • tom chambers

    Ok, I got a question?
    I just read about this for the first time a couple days ago. Not sure where I got the link from. But what I want to know is how come this technology isnt getting more coverage? With oil and gasoline prices at record levels you would think a technology like this would be big news…. yet i have looked back 6 months into CNN’s science news stories and have not even heard a mention of it.

    Why are more people not hearing of this? So far the technology has been successful. The media should be covering this. Solid media coverage would only speed the incorporation of this technology into our everyday business.

  • I read recently that the turkey plant was not as economical as fantasized because the input (offal) was actually costing them money. It was supposed to be free but apparently as soon as one of these plants opens, there’s a spike in the market for their raw materials.

  • You’re not hearing more about this because it isn’t the panacea people claimed it would be — pure and simple. Everything costs, and physical resources are always limited.

    Apparently this process is within a reasonable range of cost-effectiveness, but not at a spectacular price-point. In other worse, as I noted years ago, they’re not hitting a very low price-per-barrel on usable oil.

  • Like so many fringe technologies, this one is… marginal.

    That’s why it has stayed on the fringe. When a really better mousetrap is invented, people truly will beat a path to your door.

    No beaten path doesn’t mean a conspiracy, it means you haven’t quite got it yet…

  • Don B

    To follow up on TinMan’s comment, there is an article here with more information: ConAgra is charging $30 to $40 per ton for the turkey waste. The oil output is costing $80 per barrel, with the cost of the turkey waste adding $15 to $20 per barrel.

    $60 to $65 per barrel seems high for the processing cost (even counting the inputs of electricity and sulphuric acid). But this is a pilot plant, and no doubt some costs can be reduced as experience is gained.

    Thermal depolyermization is certainly not the total answer to the worlds’s need for liquid hydrocarbon fuel, but it is yet another potential contributor. And it is a good way of dealing with all sorts of organic waste, some of which are hazards.

  • Matt

    First of all, if the turkey waste is costing $15-$20 per barrel of oil, then I think it is time for other feedstock materials to be considered. The problem here is that although turkey waste may produce good crude, it is too useful for too many other things. How about using plain old garbage? This certainly has to be ALOT cheaper. And unlike turkey waste, TDP plants would not be competing with rendering plants for garbage.

    As far as the $60-$65 per barrel processing cost, keep in mind that the price of a barrel of oil pumped out of the ground has been hovering at around $60 per barrel for quite some time now. So if a free or very cheap feedstock material is used, TDP is already quite competative with conventional crude. Let’s also not forget that the price of conventional crude oil will likely do nothing other than rise in the long term. But since TDP is a new process and the process is still on a fairly small scale, the price is likely to fall drastically over time. So TDP will very likely go from being ‘barely competative’ to ‘extremely competative’ in perhaps even the near future.

  • David Allen

    Morons think that because they don’t know or understand how something works then it can’t be done. “Obviously” because they can’t do something, than neither can anyone else.
    Blowhards, on the other hand, criticize and demean because they realize they don’t know much. Like an adolescent, they’re feeling inferior. So they ridicule an accomplishment superior to their own.
    I have never read so many comments from blowhards and morons.

  • Mark Hergott

    That’s nice. So, besides calling people expressing their honest opinions blowhards and individuals unclear on the concept morons, do you have anything substantive to contribute?

    Well, I do. Ecogenics, a small algae pool farming company, has claimed that it can get 45 wet grams of algae from a square meter a day. Assuming that that is half water, that is 22.5 grams per square meter of carbonaceous matter a day. That means that a square kilometer algae farm could prodcuce 22,500 kilograms of dry matter a day.

    Assuming that 25 percent of this matter would need to be used to power the TDP plant, you could theoretically produce 16,875 kilograms of fuel in a day from a square kilometer.

    America has an area of around 9,600,000 square kilometers.

    Saudi Arabia? What’s that?

  • Brad L. Bolton

    I had read the original Discovery artical, and the local “Omaha World Herald did a similar article that was very well received. In the school I teach at, it is posted on both the social studies and science room’s walls.

    Anyways, what has intrigued me would be the potential for such plants in the Nebraska and Iowa region. There are so many beef, pork, poultry and other meat processing plants. I lived in one of these towns, and the smell they put off when they burned the blood and other wastes was atrocious. Another town has a real problem cleaning up decades of animal hair that were simply thrown away…

    What I could envision, would be for each of these 2-3 dozen packing plants to have their own in house plants to process their own waste. Simply have the stuff pumped/conveyored from the plant to the building next to it that processes waists. You would not have to worry about shipping the waists to the plant. Having multiple plants around the region would make it easier for the fertilizer byproduct to be marketed and sold locally. Each of these are located on major and well maintained rail lines, making for safe, cheap and easy to facilitate transportation of the oil. This would be yet another revenue source for these plants, and since they would be doing the processing themselves, there would be no real cost per ton for the waist.

    The real neat idea would be to have an oil company build an oil refinery in a central area, along an existing pipeline. If I remember correctly, there is a major line going right by Omaha. Crude, from the regional packing plants could be shipped to this refinery and bought by the oil company, refined and pumped directly into the national network of pipelines.

    Advantages of this, would be many fold. The oil refining industry is at or beyond its capacity and could use some additional refining capacity. Having a refinery inland, and center ally located would help avoid problems we are seeing with hurricane Katrina in the Gulf coast. This central location would also have the added benefit of being able to provide fuel to whichever region of the country would most need it. A great marketing lever for an oil company I would think.

    Once this was up and going, more and more local plants could be build as technology makes them cheaper and cheaper to build. This would provide more and more crude for the Omaha refinery to process. Every county, or several counties together, and metro area could have its own processing plant, processing its human waist and garbage into a revenue stream, rather then a revenue drain. This part of the country is ideally situated and suited for such a grand scheme.

    Great blog site by the way!

  • mick

    you’re a teacher but cant spell waste?

  • #73 Mark, count the assumptions in your comment, and divide the expected benefits by half for every assumption.

    The wonders of division mean that you won’t actually hit a negative number, but that’s because I’m feeling generous today.

  • zach agee

    con this be done at home? ex. 4 science fair

  • Mark

    The Germans applied a limited form of TDP during
    WWII to make gasoline from coal. The economic value of the venture into TDP is when the break even point is found- that point will be complex indeed. In any event it will be a positive externality for us. All of you are valuable for your input- write more!

  • Bill

    first, for the global warming fanatics. virtually all of the non-recycled, carbon based wastes end up in the atmosphere through natural bio-decay, to become plant food or an increase in CO2 levels. how much better would it be to get some use out of it first. carrying this on step further. once we are processing all waste streams, our demand for oil will still increase. by then, we will be harvesting plant matter directly to feed the the TDP plants. a true closed process, CO2–>Plants–>fuel–>CO2.

    this process also has potential to reduce the size of our current landfills through mining of the carbon content. there are landfills around most of our major cities that could be used for skiing in the winter. landfill mining also has the potential for crude metal ore recovery. think about how much metal is buried under about 10 years worth of garbage. the top 10 years is somewhat metal deprived from recycling efforts.

    we need energy in whatever form to maintain our society. copious energy has allowed all of the comments above to be posted for all to see. recycling/reusing carbon is an efficient way to maintain supplies. it also keeps some paleo-carbon in the ground and out of the atmosphere.

  • Tom

    RE: “I understand that the CEO of Green power has had some legal trouble in the past”
    Please read the following

  • bob

    Ecogenics? sells algae for 30 dollars a vile when you can get a quart for 19.95,so green power looks good in comparison,they are all SCAMMERS!

  • Ron M

    What has happen to this tech? anyone following it?