Trash into treasure? Company says get ready to fill 'er up

| 7/22/2003

Truckers often empty their garbage when they fuel up at the local truckstop. If Brian Appel gets his way, that trash could turn into a treasure.

Appel is the chairman and CEO of Changing World Technologies, a New York company that plans to turn garbage – be it tires, the old beach ball, your old junked computer, the leftovers from the dinner table or even human and animal wastes – into oil.

That’s oil, as in black gold, Texas tea … oil that can be made into fuel oil, gas or diesel.

According to a statement from the company, the process mimics the way heat and pressure inside the Earth convert organic materials into oil. The material is chopped up, and then heated and pressurized to produce hydrocarbons.

The company has a research and development plant at the Philadelphia Naval Yard, and has set up a partnership with ConAgra foods to reprocess waste from its turkey operations at a plant in Carthage, MO, in the southwestern part of the state.

The company has lined up some impressive backers, including Howard Buffett of ConAgra, son of investment giant Warren Buffet, and James Woolsey, former director of the CIA, who advises the firm. In fact, the two are among the investors who recently pumped $50 million into the company, Reuters news service reported. That investment complimented the millions Changing World Technologies has received from government grants.

And it makes some pretty impressive claims. According to Reuters, Changing World says it can produce oil at $15 a barrel – considerably lower than the current price (as of July 21, the cost, according to News24, oil was $28.85 per barrel). The company says that in a few years, its cost will drop to $10, and later could drop to as low as $6 per barrel.

But whether the technology is as promising as it sounds – and truckers will be filling their tanks with what used to fill their trashcans – depends on who you ask.

“If the technology is successful, it could offer enormous opportunities to address farm waste problems in the Midwest,” William Rice, acting regional administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, said in a statement. “It could be applied to all sorts of other wastes. This looks extremely positive.”

"It might work in the lab, but when you put it on a larger scale it becomes a daunting task; It is uneconomic and it's not feasible," Fadel Gheit, an oil analyst at Fahnestock & Co. and a former engineer, told Reuters. “This is a garbage disposal business; it has nothing to do with energy."