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Poop Power: Canada's New Plant Will Make Fuel Out of Poop

Dec 21, 2016 04:52 AM EST
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What if poop could fuel cars the way crude oil does? Apparently, researchers at Canada's Energy Department's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory are making it possible.

It can be remembered that flushing anything down the toilet takes it into one long journey. Waste makes its way through pipes and sewers and reaches a sewage treatment plant.

There, liquids are separated from solids, with each their own destination. Once the liquid has been purified, they are discharged into nearby surface water. 

Meanwhile, the solids go to a landfill or are further treated to be used as fertilizer.

According to Singularity Hub, the scientists are refining solid waste into biocrude oil, which is similar to how crude oil works like gasoline and diesel.

The researchers did this using hydrothermal liquefaction, and it's an accelerated, artificial version of the process by which crude oil is created inside the crust.Waste is subjected to high pressure and temperature, which causes it to break down into basic chemical compounds.

Water dissociates into hydrogen and hydroxide ions, which takes on solvent properties and becomes the catalyst for the reactions that create oil.

According to Science Daily, this procedure allowed scientists to take a natural process that takes millions of years and replicated it in hours.

Until now it was impractical to use wet waste as a basis for fuel production as it had to be dried first, and it's expensive. Hydrothermal liquefaction eliminates this requirement.

Interestingly, a study by the Water Environment and Reuse Foundation also found out that hydrothermal liquefaction has a high carbon conversion efficiency rate of 60-percent. 

So how much poop is enough? It may be important to check statistics. In the US, about 34 billion gallons of sewage are treated daily. Of 34 billion gallons, it could be estimated that 30 million barrels of oil are made every year.

Thirty-four billion a day makes 12.4 trillion a year, and since there are 42 gallons in a barrel of crude oil, that's just 1.26-billion gallons of biocrude from 12.4-trillion gallons of poop. Meaning, just 0.01 percent of what we flush end up as biocrude.

Singularity Hub said the researchers estimated that one person, over the course of a year, could make two to three gallons of biocrude oil. A 42-gallon barrel yields about 19 gallons of gasoline, which means three gallons of biocrude may yield about 1.4 gallons of gasoline. This is enough for a 40-mile travel, or an average one-day, round-trip commute.

Regardless, it may be happening. The Pacific Northwest National Laboratory licensed the technology to production equipment manufacturer Genifuel who is working with other companies to build a demonstration plant.  

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