What joins a smelly diaper, a turkey & a cube of chocolate?

— Pratima H

If we told you that almost everything that you eat, or drink out of, or poop into, or garnish for Thanksgiving can be whipped, churned and burned into something that powers your car, we know you would frown first and say the word ‘balderdash’ next.

But whether you like it or not, ‘crap’ or ‘balderdash’ seem to be exactly the cue that new-age researchers are thriving upon when it comes to digging out new sources of fuel for running the Planet.turkey manure

The source could be anything for that matter, from a delicious juicy sliver of bacon to a dead corpse and even a cow’s fart. As long as the so-cussed caboose can pull the train the other way, scientists and maverick entrepreneurs do not seem to have any palate or nostrils’ preferences here.

Just a few days back, we heard of a quaint motorcycle running on bacon grease sauntering its way along Austin, and San Diego etc.

It could be more than a gimmick from an ad agency (BBDO Minneapolis in this case), as the bike actually experiments with cooking bacon into a biodiesel.

While we are talking food, how can we forget efforts happening to stuff turkey the other way round and use its leftover footprint (or leg-print) into something that helps as a nice fuel option.

A place called Benson actually s-oiled its hands with a million-dollar power plant for burning turkey litter into electricity production. It pulled in turkey waste from some farms around in the prairie and after the manure got mixed with wood chips etc, the disposal problem for farmers was attacked simultaneously with the problem of fossil fuel dominance.

Turkeys did have company though as another scientist in another corner of the world (this time Germany) deigned his attention to the feline side of animal kingdom. Christian Koch, as reported in a newspaper article, fiddled with a weird organic diesel fuel that apart from using litter of other varieties also meshed in dead cats. Alphakat GmbH, his firm, also patented this KDV 500 machine and at one point he was talking of a ratio of 20 dead cats resulting in an 11 gallon tank.

Don’t reach out for your nose yet. Let diapers do the nudge.

Bacon-powered bikes are driving inSomeone somewhere is not only thinking but actually morphing stinking diapers into a form of fuel.

Super Faiths, a firm in Japan, took notice of a demographic dominated by elderly-age and the pile of diapers it flushes out. The result was a new breed of recycling machines where these diapers could change into fuel for biomass boilers and stoves.

The SFD Recycle System machines tried to ease out landfills where the only way to excrete this waste was incineration. The idea of bacteria-free material and consequent fuel pellets could have definitely smelt better.

A plant in Quebec at engineering major AMEC PLC, attempted being another diaper-wagon of sorts so that it would turn thousands of tones of used diapers into a synthetic diesel fuel.

Does that mean that anything (‘almost’ is the word we have disposed of now) can be burned and spun into a fuel source? Experts say that as long as it can produce more net energy for less money than current technologies, and has no scale-limitation on availability and does not produce any surprise side-effects for environment or economics, it should be pretty viable.

That should explain why All Power Labs in Berkeley, California has been busy with a car that runs on wood chips, or another scientist in a big power plant in Nigeria is working on sawdust being chipped into the fuel pipeline.

Thermo-depolymerization (TDP) on the other hand is a process that can use everything from a bird’s innards, all that chicken waste,  onion byproducts and Parmesan cheese rinds or other livestock material as salvage for alternative fuels.

May be you don’t have to wait for the poultry or cattle to help with some material for that long, if you happen to know how to use all that methane that billions of cows barf every day, and how this huge supply of ammonia  can be exhaled into something more useful. In fact dairy farms like Blue Spruce Farm in Vermont, have already started trying using cow waste in anaerobic (no oxygen) digesters  through generators to produce electricity, being sold to an adjacent college first and then reeled back into a grid.shutterstock_71218066

But not everything that can produce electricity looks or smells iffy.

Take a look at scientists at the University of Warwick in Britain where a Formula 3 racecar could be running on products from chocolate by-products! The premise that anything with a fat in it can be turned into diesel, is working like a sweet tooth here and Cadbury’s factory in England, was reported as an active contributor, making the research syrupy for the new biodiesel car. Even at the University of Birmingham in Great Britain, hydrogen was tossed out by feeding the diluted caramel and nougat waste from a local chocolate factory to Escherichia coli bacteria.

Wait, does that mean, humans will have to sacrifice their chocolate for the sweet jaws of their cars?

Isn’t sacrifice a word pretty much alien to our species though? After all, we are the only ones in the entire food chain who has not been mentioned even once in this narrative of bio-fuels so far?

Exceptions solidify the rule. People like Craig Alan Bittner, a Beverly Hills cosmetic surgeon, wouldn’t really fall in line here for he has been working on human waste of different sorts already, trying to make sense of liposuctions and all that leftover fat into a biofuel for his Ford SUV.

Now that’s a good reason for eating junk, filling in more Styrofoam cups with carbonated drinks (did we mention how these cups are being pumped into fuel chains too), getting obese, consuming irresponsibly and offering yourself on a doctor’s table for, eh, making some bio-fuel for the planet.

Awareness, and stuffings of contributions come in all forms. Don’t let the turkeys take us over.


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