New Biomass Process Holds Great Promise

Biomass — the process of converting carbon-based waste into fuel — is slowly but surely becoming a viable enterprise. At the forefront are companies like Changing World Technologies Inc.; its first commercial plant, recently built in Carthage, Mo., sees thousands of tons of turkey parts from a nearby Butterball plant transformed, via a multi-stage process of intense heat, separating, grinding, and distilling, into fertilizer, fuels, and clean-burning oils. The process produces no waste — no smoke, no dirty water — and can run on virtually any carbon-based input, from medical waste to old tires to cast-off computers, says the company. Currently, Changing World gets a boost from government subsidies, but it predicts that with refinements in its process and more cooperation from waste-producing industries, the sky’s the limit. Enviros have mixed reactions to this type of biomass, acknowledging the benefits — waste reduction, a cleaner process for producing petroleum, and a possible reduction in mad cow disease (with slaughterhouse waste burnt instead of fed to other animals) — while worrying that it could distract attention from the needed move away from petroleum to genuinely clean energies.