Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Trash = Plastic = Fuel

From yesterday's New York Times:

WASHINGTON, April 8 — Scientists worldwide are struggling to make motor fuel from waste, but Richard Gross has taken an unusual approach: making a “fuel-latent plastic,” designed for conversion. It can be used like ordinary plastic, for packaging or other purposes, but when it is waste, can easily be turned into a substitute diesel fuel.
The process does not yet work well enough to be commercial, but the Pentagon was impressed enough to give $2.34 million for more research. The technique could reduce the amount of material that the military has to ship to soldiers at remote bases, because the plastic would do double duty, first as packaging and then as fuel. It would also reduce trash disposal problems, according to the Defense Advanced Projects Research Agency, known as Darpa.
Dr. Gross, a professor of chemistry at Polytechnic University, in Brooklyn, is turning plant oils, of the kind already used to make biodiesel, into “bioplastic.” The plastics can be films or rigid, as are commonly found in food packaging. Then he uses a naturally occurring enzyme to break down the plastic into fuel.
“It works in very mild conditions, lukewarm tap water,” he said. The enzyme, cutinase, is present in nature, made by parasites to eat through the shiny surfaces of tree leaves, so the parasite can suck nutrients out of the inner parts.



via Wired who have this comment on the story:

You see, military bases today produce an enormous amount of trash -- more than 7 pounds per day, per soldier. A big stinkin' pile of "personnel, fuel, and critical transport equipment are needed to support the removal and disposal" of that waste, Darpa notes. What's more, making those transportation runs is ridiculously expensive; the Office of Naval Research figures fuel on the battlefield costs up to $400 per gallon.

Strange mix of elements in this story, Alternative Fuels, Genetic Engineering, and Scientific Advances through Military Budgeting... I've heard rumors that the modern militaries reliance on digital gadgets was going to lead to massive breakthroughs in battery technology, but if this takes off... well then I guess we'll only have to kill each other over theological disputes instead of oil supplies... (I'm only half kidding, here.)

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