The Finch Formerly Known As Gold

24 April 2003

Replace the giblets at 30,000 miles

Can we really reprocess organic waste into the functional equivalent of a fossil fuel? Well, sort of, says Greg Hlatky, but don't expect it to Save The World:

You just don't get a lot of energy out of a ton of turkey waste compared to a ton of carbon-based feedstock. A ton of coal produces 20.48 million BTU of energy. A ton of turkey waste (using the man in the story as a benchmark) would produce about 450 pounds of oil, or about 70 gallons, or around 10 million BTU, a figure that agrees well with the DOE figure of 12 million BTU per ton from poultry litter. Why buy a cow when you can get milk at the store? For sheer bang per pound (and dollar), oil, natural gas and coal are hard to beat.

And who knows how the market will respond?

Let's assume that this technology really produces "4 billion barrels of light Texas crude each year." What will dumping that much oil onto the market do to the price? Even producing it at $10 a barrel might not be economical.

From my perch here in the oil patch, I can testify that when the price drops, the drilling stops.

There's some symmetrical appeal here — call it an extension of the proverb "Waste not, want not" — but this particular flavor of biomass isn't going to displace good ol' dinosaur juice any time soon.

Posted at 9:55 PM to Family Joules


When I read the story, I thought of those lagoons of pig waste off the Atlantic Coast, and how this would be a great way to get rid of stuff like that without dumping it in the water.

Posted by: Diane L. at 11:44 PM on 24 April 2003

It would be indeed. Oklahoma is awash in the stuff, owing to the presence of hog-processing facilities, and there's a constant worry that groundwater will be contaminated.

Posted by: CGHill at 11:21 AM on 25 April 2003

There's plenty of energy in what turkeys eat, but the energy that turns into turkey s**t is somewhat less than the energy that turns into turkey meat.

I can see it now: "Put a turkey in your tank!"

And of course you can have your fuel with or without tryptophan.

Posted by: Kevin McGehee at 10:33 PM on 25 April 2003

Right now this is not competitive with fossil fuel. But consider the implications.

Are you factoring in the money you aren't spending in waste disposal ?

What does it do to balance of payments as America reduces it's #1 import ?

What will it mean for the cities of the Northeast as they recycle the enormous amounts of garbage they create into heating oil or electricity ? This is something that could impact the Northeast and Midwest the way air conditioning did the South.

I can see the empty ghost towns of the Great Plains sprouting energy self-sufficient agricultural retirement communities under heated domes.

Posted by: Charles at 2:03 PM on 18 November 2003