The turkey's answer to oil

America's turkeys now have something else to fear on top of Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Fuel prices continue to soar throughout the United States. And as a collective outcry emanates from American consumers, vehicle owners have little choice but to gobble up the gas upon which the nation runs.

Many hybrid vehicles are still too expensive for the average American to purchase, and other options, such as electric or ethanol-fuelled ones, remain impractical due to mileage range limitations or sorely lacking infrastructure.

The price increases, combined with environmental woes, have consumers looking for the next big fix for dwindling and costly oil resources. Will any of these supposed solutions ever take? The jury is still out.

With an estimated 30-year supply of available oil left at current rates of consumption, it is only a matter of time before someone comes up with the next idea of a replacement. American entrepreneur Brian S. Appel believes that the time is ripe already, as he thinks he has found a possible cure for oil dependency. What seems like potentially great news for humans turns out to be another kick in the guts for the already under-siege turkey.

A new recipe

Appel has developed a method, called the Thermal Depolymerisation Process (TDP), of taking the by-products of the typical holiday meal and converting it into biofuel. This, he hopes might one day relieve some of the pressure of the modern-day energy crisis. Appel's company, Changing World Technologies (CWT), has been working on this idea since it was founded back in 1997.

The technique works by producing renewable diesel, high-quality fertilisers and valuable specialty products by putting turkey guts, feathers, fats, bones, cartilage, and other wastes under pressure in the Thermal Conversion Process (TCP).

"Utilising above-ground waste streams to create a renewable, environmentally sound domestic source of energy is one of our most promising options for breaking our virtual bondage to oil imports," says Appel.

According to CWT, by utilising above-ground waste streams, energy produced by TCP does not add new carbon to the atmosphere and therefore contributes to the arrest of global warming. The company also claims that it provides a solution for solid waste management while creating a renewable domestic source of energy without toxic emissions.

Here's how it works: TDP emulates the Earth's natural geothermal activity whereby organic material is converted into fossil fuel under conditions of extreme heat and pressure over millions of years. Luckily for us, TCP is much more efficient than nature. The company uses pipes and controls temperature and pressure to reduce the bio-remediation process from millions of years to mere hours.

Pressures are raised naturally by steam to 4MPa and held there for approximately 15 minutes to fully heat the mixture. The pressure is rapidly released at this point to boil off most of the water leaving a mix of crude hydrocarbons and solid minerals.

After removing the minerals, the hydrocarbons are sent to a second-stage reactor and heated to 260°C. They are then sorted by fractional distillation, producing byproducts such as natural gas (which is diverted back to fuel), crude oil, minerals, and water.

Might the days of extracting oil from the ground be coming to an end?

"We have tremendous faith in the potential of our technology to help solve some of the biggest problems facing the United States and others, including global warming, solid waste management, and energy independence," says Appel, who had no scientific training prior to developing a way to turn garbage and waste products into a useful commodity.

The big stink

CWT's mission to "provide viable solutions to current environmental and economic problems, while improving access to reliable, affordable, socially responsible and environmentally sound energy" began to see the light of day a few years ago. In 2004, Renewable Environmental Solutions LLC (RES) - a joint venture of Changing World Technologies and ConAgra Foods - began selling its agricultural waste products from its first commercial plant in Carthage, Missouri.

Back then, the facility produced 100-200 barrels of oil per day utilising byproducts from an adjacent turkey processing facility. Today, at peak capacity, this plant produces over 500 barrels.

Agricultural wastes alone make up approximately 50 per cent of the total yearly waste generation in the United States. With TCP, this six billion tonnes of agricultural waste could be effectively converted into four billion barrels of oil, the company says.

Such compelling claims can produce either of two responses. On the one hand, Appel could just be another alchemist trying to brew up a cure-all potion for what ails the world's environmental woes. On the other, he is on to something that could change the way the world's fuelling structure operates, drastically minimising or even eliminating dependence on oil to fuel transportation needs.

Moreover, with one tonne of guts and feathers yielding a measly two barrels of oil, it might be questioned whether it is worth the effort and expense.

Events a few years ago erred on the side of 'alchemist', and put a dampener on the CWT's standing in the US. On 28 December 2005, Missouri Governor Matt Blunt ordered the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to close the Carthage, Missouri plant, because it "smelled like a corpse", according to one neighbourhood resident.

According to Governor Blunt, "The people of Carthage have endured terrible odours from the plant for too long". He even directed the DNR to pursue every legal action possible to ensure compliance by RES with state clean air laws, even going so far as to tell the DNR to refer any violations to the State Attorney General for legal action.

The plant operators eventually eliminated the most noxious odours and reopened.

Hail to the turkey

Though now in the registration process with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), the proposed initial public offering of CWT's common stock has not yet been approved. Will the latest stinky developments put a dampener on the whole process? Company Press Contact Julie Gross Gelfland has no clue as to a timeline for SEC approval.

While it remains to be seen if this concept will expand to anything beyond its current state, possible locations for additional RES plants are being developed. But with little support in the United States, even with the process purported to be more than 80 per cent energy efficient, CWT is now looking elsewhere to start new plants - mainly in Europe, where the support for such a groundbreaking method is more easily found.

It seems that the future of 'turkey biofuel' hinges on the ability of CWT to make a dent in the 21 million barrels of oil per day that the US alone consumes. With oil becoming in shorter supply daily, it is only a matter of time before other methods of oil production will be needed. If CWT's technology eventually leads to bigger and better things, you'll certainly be thinking twice before raking that carcass into the trash.

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