I’ve been thinking a lot lately about something called thermal depolymerization. Its not the sort of technology that gets people excited, but its something that really could change the world.
For the last several decades there has been a great deal of pressue to recycle things like paper, glass, and metals. The problem is, recycling glass and paper doesn’t make much economic sense. In Sweeden, they are now switching to incineration of paper. Paper is cheap.
Likewise, the components of glass (sand), are pretty easy to come by. Only metal recycling really seems to work well (aluminum, tin, iron, steel, etc). Other wastes (diapers, coffee grounds, egg shells, etc), usually get incinerated or put in a landfill. Both options have their downside.
What thermal depolymerization does is breakdown organic materials into oils, water, gas and carbon black. Organic materials includes paper, cardboard, waste oil, any and all food refuse, human waste, agricultural waste, bones, feathers, chicken guts, plastic, tires, wood, cloth…..damn near everything.
The amount of oil/gas/water you get depends on what you put in. Plastic is mostly oil. Food waste is mostly water.
The implication of this technology (assuming it works as promised, and the test facility look promising) is that we can pretty much kiss landfills goodbye, we can increase the domestic production of oil, we can safely get rid of hazardous organic waste (including medical waste), and increase efficiency of oil refining.