Gasoline From Garbage: Waste Management Invests in Terrabon

terrabon biofuels plant photo

Photo: Terrabon
Not Quite Mr. Fusion Yet
If there's one thing we're not running out of, it's garbage. That's why turning it into useable fuel has been such an attractive idea for a long time. But we might be closer to that day: Garbage collection giant Waste Management has announced a partnership with Terrabon, a company trying to turn organic waste into high octane gasoline using naturally occurring microorganisms and chemical processes.
terrabon biofuels plant photo

Image: Terrabon

From the Terrabon & WM release (pdf):

MixAlco is an acid fermentation process that converts biomass into organic salts. The resulting non-hazardous organic salts, or bio-crude, would be then shipped by truck, rail or pipeline to a Valero refinery or other centralized processing facility where it would be converted to a high-octane gasoline that can be blended directly into a refiner's fuel pool, avoiding many of the blending and logistics challenges presented by ethanol.

Terrabon claims that it can compete with fossil fuels when oil prices are above $75, and that its technology can scale up better than most of its competitors.

On advantage they have is that they use a mix of naturally occurring organisms to break down the organic matter ("municipal solid waste, sewage sludge, forest product residues and non-edible energy crops"), so they "don't require the special sterile environments needed to prevent single-organism cultures from being contaminated, which brings down the cost of equipment."

But there's a downside to using a mix of organisms instead of a single one; the interactions are so complex that even the company isn't quite sure what's happening. That makes it much harder to tweak the pathways and improve the efficiency of the process.

Simpler is Better?
Maybe I'm the only one, but when I think of organic garbage, I think composting. That seems to be the best way to get rid of it... Thought maybe if the organic stream is contaminated, treating it this way would be better to avoid spreading toxins around.

Via Terrabon, Technology Review
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