11 Mai 2005

Garbage to run cars gets in gear

Did you read about the New Jersey scientist who makes tear gas out of garbage? You pour it into your gas tank and it makes oil sheiks cry.

If the story sounds familiar it may be because you read it here last year, when Seymour and Bernice Paul of Boynton Beach called to tell me that their son, the Princeton University thermonuclear physicist, had developed a gasoline-from-garbage process. I called him at his research lab for the scoop.

Yes indeed. Stephen Paul, 51, told me he had spent nine years developing the cost-efficient cook book chemistry for turning biomass into 90-octane fuel for cars and trucks.

He developed the method on his own time, he said, because oil is running out and we generate plenty of garbage. Enough garbage if turned into automobile fuel, he said, to replace 15 percent of the gas we consume. “I named it P-Series fuel in honor of Princeton University,” he said last year. “In 1999, P-Series fuel was designated a renewable energy automotive fuel for Flexible Fuel Vehicles by the Department of Energy.”

That was the good news. The bad news is that gasoline-from-garbage would have to wait until gasoline went above $2 a gallon and stayed there before P-Series fuel could compete at the pump.

Looks like we’ve waited long enough. It was time to call the researcher for a progress report.

Paul had news, much of it good in a personally terrifying way. “I owe $2.2 million now, and with luck, I’ll owe another $46 million in a few months.” Paul and a few investors have founded the Trenton Fuel Works LLC and bought themselves a sludge plant.

The sludge plant, with a few tens of millions of dollars of tinkering, will be capable of pumping out enough P-Series fuel to power 15,000 cars and trucks. Built in 1992 at a cost of $88 million, the plant was supposed to extract sludge from sewage and make fertilizer pellets for Trenton and neighboring towns at a site on Duck Island in the Delaware River. The project failed and Trenton was willing to sell the turkey.

Once financing is established, the Duck Island cooker will “digest” millions of tons of liquefied biomass and paper waste into a slippery chemical soup equivalent to light crude oil. Paul hopes that will come to pass within two years and present Trenton Fuel Works with enviable choices:

1. Sell garbage crude at $50 a barrel.

2. Further process the crude to make a variety of industrial solvents and chemical agents selling for up to $6 a pound.

3. Get the P-Series fuel necessary to create a market for domestic clean-burning, renewable automotive fuel as government and individuals buy Flexible Fuel Vehicles that omnivorously burn both gasoline and renewable fuels.

P-Series fuel, its developer explained, is a blend of hydrocarbons that are extracted from natural gas, alcohol and ethers made from garbage and 45 percent farm-grown ethanol.

Investors want guarantees

The synthetic gasoline not only promises to stay cheaper than gasoline but also burns much cleaner. “P-Series fuel burns so clean that, when we changed the oil on our test vehicles, the old oil was still yellow and clear,” he said. (The test vehicles were Paul’s own Taurus and five City of Philadelphia fleet cars.

Paul is quick to note that, although the science of mining energy from garbage is established, it is a challenge getting start-up money from investors. “Investment bankers are like any other bankers,” he said. “They want more than projections. They want to see a track record. We don’t have one.”

Paul and his partners have calculated that it will cost about $10 million a year to operate their plant, and that they can sell the byproducts of their garbage crude for $20 million, even without producing automotive fuel. However, if the company can introduce P-Series fuel to the market and show motorists a clean-burning middle octane fuel for $2 a gallon, they will ramp up production.

Again, these are projections. Investors want assurances. New Jersey drivers will have to be taught that they have the option to order FFVs in several models from Ford Chrysler and General Motors at no extra cost (see www.standardalcohol.com for models).

But wouldn’t P-Series fuel compete with farm state fuel blends that use corn-based alcohol?

No, Paul said. “If P-Series fuel succeeds, we become agriculture’s best market for ethanol.”

‘Steel stomach’ is hungry

Paul was amused when I asked whether there would be any problem getting garbage delivered to the Duck Island sludge plant. Most dumps, he said, charge tipping fees. “Are you kidding? Every day, hundreds of trucks loaded with garbage stream out of New York City anddrive hundreds of miles to find a landfill, and then they have to pay.”

The entrepreneur described Trenton’s massive sludge extractor as “a great big steel stomach” that digests liquefied garbage: “We take biodegradable vegetable matter — paper, twigs, sawdust, waste from bakeries, cafeterias and flower shops and supermarkets — grind it up in water with a little acid and heat, and on the other end we get a product we can sell to industry or turn into P-Series fuel.”

And if P-Series fuel succeeds, will the Trenton Fuel Works’ big steel stomachs eventually come to Florida to digest our refuse?

Florida’s concentration of ag industry with its sugar cane and citrus pulp wastes near population centers make it an untapped reservoir of garbage oil, Paul said. Why drill offshore when we can just take out the trash? We might need a new slogan if New Jersey doesn’t beat us to it:

Florida — the Oklahoma of Garbage Crude.

Source: Palm Beach Post May 08, 2005.

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