Fun with landfill waste

What's not to like about trash-to-diesel technology?

Published June 12, 2006 5:57PM (EDT)

How the World Works likes to be optimistic on Monday morning, so today we're going to give a shout out to "catalytic depolymerization." According to a press release that hit our in box on Friday, a Washington company has a patented technology that will turn virtually any kind of waste into oil, without generating nasty pollutants, contributing to global warming, or consuming more energy than it generates.

Sound too good to be true? Yep, that's what we first thought about Green Power Inc. But the tale told by the press release is still compelling, and we have a soft spot here for technologies that transform sewage into gold. At a demonstration of the technology in Cheyenne, Wyo., June 2, city councilwoman Georgia Boyles brought a plastic trash bag of waste, dumped it into the mobile demonstration unit freshly shipped from Germany, and "within a few minutes, a valve was turned and yellowish diesel fuel was pouring forth, filling plastic buckets."

Cheyenne's landfill manager, Craig Whitehead, was apparently convinced. According to press reports he was writing up a contract to present to the City Council for approval that would call for Green Power Inc. to process all of Cheyenne's landfill-destined waste.

The details are a bit sketchy, but according to Green Power, the technology, which uses chemical catalysts to break down the carbon chains of a wide variety of waste products, is the brainchild of German inventor Christian Koch, formerly a chief scientist for Siemens. Koch generated a little notoriety a couple of years ago when a German newspaper recklessly claimed that he was planning to use dead cats as a feedstock. The dead cat meme, plus amateur spelling and copyediting on the Green Power Inc. Web site, do not generate the kind of confidence that might bring venture capitalists running, but, heck, it's the thought that counts. Who needs landfills when waste can be transformed into fuel?

By Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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