Every time you use the bathroom, you could be flushing away a potentially great source of energy. At least, that’s what AMEC, a Canadian firm, believes. They are striving to capture human excrement and process it into gasoline and oil through a thermochemical process called pyrolysis… as long as the poop comes wrapped in neat, tidy packages – like diapers!
Pyrolysis is a somewhat simplistic concept. An organic material waste (such as a loaded Huggies pull-up) is incinerated at an extraordinarily high temperature (around 800 degrees F) in the absence of oxygen. Theoretically, no combustion can occur without oxygen, and the quick decomposition conveniently separates the diaper and human-waste compounds into usable gases, concentrated liquids, and a solid carbon ash residue.
This is a win-win situation for Americans as we take more steps toward a future of alternative energy while attempting to reduce source pollution. Disposable diapers clog our national waste stream, and 100 years pass before a single diaper decomposes naturally into the soil. According to the EPA, diapers account for 2.3% of total landfill trash by weight, and that percentage is rising in tandem with birthrates.
In Japan, the birthrates are declining and so are the numbers of diapers being tossed into the trash. An oddly named Japanese company, Super Faiths, however, is also attempting to turn diapers into fuel despite these statistics, but on a slightly larger scale: with adult diapers. And their conversion system does not require a large, remotely based plant as does AMEC’s. Super Faiths devised the SFD Recycle machine that shreds and sterilizes dirty diapers onsite (such as at hospitals or nursing homes), then packages them into tiny energy pellets (roughly the size of bullets) for heating use in home biomass boilers.
Pungent aromas aside, breaking diapers down into fuel is not without some real risk. The plastic linings of most diapers contain various dioxins, which are hazardous and toxic carcinogenic compounds that, if released as a fume or gas, could increase air pollution and indirectly pose a threat to our water supply. As with any new system or technological advancement, though, there are always kinks that need ironing out.
If there were an infrastructure in place to use your leavings as an alternative fuel source, would YOU consider collecting and donating your feces? Or is this idea a sewage pipe-dream?