Fuel from human waste, algae could be lucrative sources for biofuels

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Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland is looking at a couple of potentially lucrative sources for biofuels.

Poop and algae.

The poop approach will be tested on a full scale soon in Vancouver, B.C. The algae approach is eventually headed for tests at an Arizona facility.

Biofuels refer to a wide range of fuels created by different processes for a wide variety of purposes. They are usually created with sugar, or with cover crops such as camelina, or with wood wastes such a leftover slash of downed trees, among other sources. A July 2016 U.S. Department of Energy report concluded that the nation has the partly-untapped potential to produce at least 1 billion tons of crops, biomass from forests and other waste materials capable of replacing 30 percent of the United States’ 2005 petroleum consumption.

Biofuels result in fewer carbon emissions than petroleum-based fuels.

PNNL is working on two additional unconventional sources for biofuels.

One source is sewage — with plenty of toilet paper, plus some grease, fats and oils mixed in.

PNNL believes that a single person can produce two to three gallons of biocrude oil annually just by doing what comes naturally and inevitably to each one of us.

PNNL has been tinkering on and off with biofuels since the 1970s. The lab’s scientists ended up focusing on the grease, fats and oils in sewage as a potential source of biocrude oil. The problem has always been that sewage sludge is too soggy to produce usable biocrude oil. And until recently, engineering issues have kept scientists from drying the sewage sludge into a biocrude oil-friendly substance.

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John Stang

John Stang

John Stang is a longtime Pacific Northwest reporter. He is a jack-of-all-trades freelancer with expertise in a variety of topics, including the Hanford nuclear reservation, state government, the environment, science and crime.

View all posts by John Stang