Poop fuel!

No joke – a tiny New Zealand startup called Aquaflow Bionomics has figured out out to harvest the algae that grows naturally in, ahem, “effluent ponds”. After a person poops, all the waste gets piped to a sewage treatment plant (let’s assume dry weather. Storm water overflow is too gross to be thought about to deeply). It then sits in a settling pond to separate solids from liquids. When the liquid is piped off for further treatment, the solid remains, and it becomes a tasty feeding ground for algae. Once you’ve got algae, it’s no great trick to convert it into biofuel, and in fact, there’s far more energy in algae fuel than in ethanol from corn or sugar. You can get 10,000 gallons of ethanol from an acre of algae, compared to 60 gallons from an acre of corn. And growing the algae on human waste – that’s just genius. The company’s website says that Boeing is looking into Aquaflow’s process for possible distillation into jet fuel.

In fact, converting our waste into energy has become a bit of a trend lately. Using a process called Plasma incineration, a few companies propose to convert solid trash waste into fuel for natural gas electricity generation. The process uses something similar to an arc welder to heat the trash very rapidly so that it melts into a big piece of slag. The trash ingots are then washed, to reduce the heavy metal content, and then sent to a natural gas electricity plant.

Of course, neither of these are as good idea as just building some solar and wind plants and driving electric vehicles. A 100-mile square of solar panels in Nevada would generate enough electricity to power the United States. Or, alternatively, there’s enough harnessable wind in North Dakota, Texas, and Kansas to power the nation. Somehow these technologies make more sense to me than building giant plasma incinerators or trying to extract car fuel from poop. Of course, then we still need to figure out what to do with the poop.

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6 Responses to Poop fuel!

  1. jebyrnes says:

    Energy crisis? Mr. Floatie to the rescue!

    Note: I am not to be held responsible for any damage incurred while falling on the floor laughing at the above video enttiled, Mr. Floatie Pushes for Poo Power.

  2. Emmett says:

    Nice post. Renewable electricity is certainly preferable to biodiesel for powering cars. But there is still air travel, which will probably require liquid fuel into the foreseeable future. So maybe algae will indeed be(part of) the answer there.

  3. Eric Wolff says:

    That’s a good point. Air travel remains my personal bugaboo, since I need to do it if I ever want to see my mom on the east coast, yet it is by far my largest contribution to global warming. Apparently Boeing is really serious about finding a biofuel. They’re working with several companies to find a way to dodge high oil costs and the need to buy expensive carbon offsets.

  4. […] massively polluting, or have some other unintended consequence – then he may have the ultimate two-birds-one-stone process, converting our waste back into its component parts. This won’t actually solve the impending […]

  5. […] they can’t reduce the carbon emissions from jet fuel (yet), but the fellows at Earth Friendly Moving can at least save us the boxes problem. They make […]

  6. Hamish says:

    Let’s think about this for a minute.

    A small company has developed a proven method of converting algae in the wild which grows in poo ponds, to a real fuel for cars, trucks, boats and airplanes. It takes (by comparison) a small area to produce sufficient quantities, and doesn’t compete with foodstocks. Algae doubles in size four times A DAY. It’s already been used in engine tests successfully, and Boeing’s about to use it in a flight test, with Techs from Boeing confident about the results…and the by-product is clean water!!

    Am I missing something, or is this the 21st Century answer to the invention of the telephone…

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