Northwest biodiesel and ethanol production is on the rise. But most of the raw materials for our biofuels still come from far away.
Midwestern corn and soybeans, for example, or canola oil from Canada. A new study by the Pacific Northwest National Lab suggests the path to truly “homegrown” fuel might lead to the garbage dump.
Six researchers at the National Lab in Richland, Washington investigated how a regional biofuels industry could sustain itself without resorting to imported feedstocks.
Dennis Stiles: “We were a bit surprised to discover that the resource was a bit smaller than our intuition would have told us.”
Lead study author Dennis Stiles says farmers have no incentive to switch to oilseeds right now given the current high prices for food crops.
Dennis Stiles: “Municipal and industrial solid waste turns out to be one of the most prominent products available. It has the additional charm of already being collected and transported to central locations.”
Stiles says pretty much everything in your garbage except the metal and glass can be chemically converted into liquid fuel. He says the technology to do that exists, but needs further refinement.
The study calculated that the Northwest could eventually meet 10 to 12 percent of its annual fuel demand from garbage we now throw out.