Fuel your car with Thanksgiving leftovers

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

You're probably aware that Americans (and pretty much everybody else in the world) have a bit of an oil addiction. Of course, unlike some things you could get yourself addicted to, the supplies aren't limitless.

So, wouldn't it be great if we could make oil ourselves? Produce it just like the Earth does - through pressure and heat - only faster?

It turns out that DIY oil is not only possible, it's a reality! As you read this, a factory near Carthage, Missouri, is turning tons of waste from a nearby turkey slaughterhouse into diesel fuel and fertilizer. How? A little thing called thermal depolymerization.

See, oil is made naturally when carbon (usually in the form of dead plants and animals) gets buried under tons of earth and is then crushed and heated by the movement of tectonic plates. Needless to say, this takes a while.

But, in 2003, a company called Changing World Technologies, which had perfected a way to duplicate this process in a factory in a fraction of the time - as little as 15 minutes in some cases - set up a plant in Carthage. Better yet, because of the way the process works, it's far more energy efficient than any other available method of producing biofuel, yielding 100 British Thermal Units of energy for every 15 BTUs spent in production.

But wait, it gets better! Not only can thermal depolymerization turn turkey into black gold, it can do the same thing with just about any carbon-containing substance - from raw sewage to old car tires to cast-off computers. And, what doesn't get made into oil ends up as other handy products, such as the aforementioned fertilizer or useful industrial chemicals.

The downside: So far, there doesn't seem to be one.

So why haven't you heard of this? Frankly, we have no idea. Part of the problem is that when Congress drew up regulations to give biofuel-producing companies a tax credit in 2004, they wrote the legislation in a way that inadvertently excludes thermal depolymerization. This makes it difficult to get investors and to compete with the tax-break advantaged.

Nevertheless, we at mental_floss love the idea of thermal depolymerization - with every fiber of our gizmo-loving, tree-hugging being - and we're hoping that if we explain more about it, that you'll start producing some oil for us.

Adapted from Be Amazing (HarperCollins), available at leading bookstores. For a daily dose of quirky fun visit mentalfloss.com and check out mental_floss magazine at your local newsstand.