13.8.06

USING EVERYTHING BUT THE SQUEAL. But the opportunity cost of a bratwurst might now include ... a full tank of gas?

[University of Illinois] researchers were able to determine the precise balance between a temperature hot enough to break down the manure's molecular bonds and a pressure high enough to keep the super hot poop from turning into a gas. These conditions allow the pig excrement to emerge less than an hour later as thick, black, sludgy oil.

Along the way the product is stripped of its telltale scent--it smells like wet coffee grounds--and is only slightly less pure than the natural stuff, [professor Yuanhui] Zhang said. The only byproducts are a small puff of carbon dioxide, a few dribbles of water and a tiny bit of dirt.

"What's fascinating is that it's a relatively simple process," said Ted Funk, a researcher in Zhang's group. "Even though the process has complex chemistry, it's relatively short, requires almost no extra materials, and you get a nice energy output."

In fact, the researchers have found the sludge contains three times the energy used to produce it. This energy ratio, combined with a technical breakthrough earlier this year that allows continuous feeding of the system with fecal matter, has been noticed by entrepreneurs.

Pig farms also smell of ammonia. Is there an easy way to extract that as well? Commercialization of Porky's Petrol (Performance Fuel for Road Hogs?) awaits the development of industrial-scale refineries. Is it time to short Big Oil for a case of "not invented here?"

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