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Wednesday February 1, 2006
Okay, I'll Make One Exception...
I'm pro-nuke, and proud of it. But I'll make an exception for non-nuclear research -- thermal depolymerization.
Why? Because in theory, TDP would allow us to turn biomass (including biohazardous waste) into petroleum products, and would leverage existing infrastructure (refineries, gas stations, everything in between).
The neat thing about TDP is that it takes long organic molecules (meat and plant byproducts primarily, but you can also feed plastics into the system) and turns them into shorter, more useful ones. This is the same process which, as the popular theory goes, turned dinosaurs into oil.
Whether or not that's where oil came from, you CAN make oil from turkey parts, lawn clippings, and people-poo. And that means that even in a primarily nuclear economy (in which a nuke-fired electrical grid runs almost everything, including cars) you can still get the oil you need for plastics and off-grid applications without having to sink a well. Oil is really useful stuff. We wouldn't have gotten addicted to using it if it wasn't.
TDP is a great example of efficient solar power. Let NATURE turn sunlight into chemical energy (photosynthesis, optionally followed by animal digestion and metabolism), and then help it along a little bit so the chemicals are more readily useful.
Admittedly, in practice there have been some hiccups. The pilot plant in Carthage, Missouri has been shut down over allegations of bad smells, and it's not as cost-effective as it needs to be now that the turkey plant is charging them for the byproducts they use. Still, the technology WORKS, and I'm in favor of continued research on this front.