Folks in the U.S. tend to be convinced that technology will save us. Traditionally, environmentalism has opposed itself to this tendency, scolding that technology is, in fact, the source of all eco-evil. I would suggest that, while technology’s record is, shall we say, mixed, this is the wrong way to go, both substantively and politically. More on that subject later.

I certainly count myself a technological optimist, so I get excited about every story like this: Today, Treehugger gives the rundown on two new machines that make energy from waste. The first creates (brace yourself for some technical jargon) a really ginormously strong tornado that batters the waste into power. The second does something that even the Treehuggers don’t pretend to understand — “a thermal depolymerization process” — to squish virtually any carbon-based waste into three products: “high-quality oil, clean-burning gas, and purified minerals that can be used as fuels, fertilizers, or specialty chemicals for manufacturing.” They’re pretty psyched about it:

Grist relies on the support of generous readers like you. Donate today to keep our climate news free.

That sounds weird, but imagine this: If this thing works, most toxic waste problems would disappear–and so would imported oil. According to its manufacturers, if the U.S. were to convert its agricultural waste alone into oil and gas, according to Discover magazine, it would yield the energy equivalent of 4 billion barrels of oil annually. Four billion barrels! That’s nearly as much as we import each year.

Yes, yes, it’s still in development, might not pan out, might have unforseen side effects. But still: Neat.

Grist thanks its sponsors. Become one.