The Tidal Irrigation and Electrical System

renewable energy, carbon dioxide sink, biodiesel, and food from the ocean

Kitty Litter to the Rescue

Posted by on Friday, November 26th, 2010

A team based at the University of Massachusetts Amherst has developed a novel way of turning biomass like grass cuttings, kelp or even wood pulp into the basic components of plastics and resins. This yearly $US400 billion industry is currently being supplied by the refining of fossil crude oil.

According to the US Department of Energy it represents 4.6% of domestic fuel consumption and less than 1% of electricity production. Unfortunately, these numbers are misleading, as we all know, most of the things in the US that are made of plastic are made outside the country. The ubiquitous child’s toy originates in China. This distortion of public information is employed by most governments around the world. It is safe to assume that when factoring in the imported shipping and manufacturing of plastics the amount of petroleum used is much higher than official numbers.

The low value source material biomass that forms the feed stock for the pyrolitic bio-oils used by the Amherst team are creating high value olefins and aromatics like benzene, toluene and xylene in a high yield process. To achieve this they use a variable-reaction hydrogenation phase and this is followed by zeolite catalyst step. Zeolite is commonly used in kitty litter but it has many other uses. Check out the abstract for Renewable Chemical Commodity Feedstocks from Integrated Integrated Catalytic Processing Pyrolysis Oils. The company Anellotech has the licence.

As useful as this is the issue remains of sourcing the water and fertilisers that are needed to grow the biomass in the first place. (please see my previous blog Water and Soil – not just Oil) The nutrients that are represented by the plants themselves must be replaced in order for the soils to remain capable of growing quality vegetation but even more fundamentally, world wide, droughts and water profligacy has lead to ever more energy consumption in the quest to get water to agricultural land.

The fixing of nutrients into a usable form is an integral part of the biomass potential of the Tidal Irrigation and Electrical System. It does this without consuming fresh water or the need for petrochemical fertilisers. Check out the flash based demo.

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