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Comment Environment, Health, Safety & Security

Profitable potential for trash-to-liquids process

By Mary Page Bailey |

A group at Texas A&M University (College Station, Tex.; www.tamu.edu) is developing a process that converts organic municipal solid waste (MSW) into straight-chain alkanes, a primary component in gasoline. The four-step process (diagram) begins with a proven industrial waste-sorting method (using vibration, magnetism and air currents) that isolates the organic, digestible portion (typically food scraps, paper, wood and yard waste) of the MSW. Next, a countercurrent fermentation step employs naturally occurring microbes to digest the organic portion of the MSW, converting it into various carboxylic acids, ranging from two to eight carbons in length. The fermentation process occurs in-situ, in plastic- or concrete-lined holes in the ground. Therefore, any type of organic material can be processed, and sterile conditions are not required. The acidic fermentation broth is then transferred to a continuous membrane-extraction process. Medium-chain carboxylic acids are selectively extracted and recovered in an alkaline environment, resulting in a solution that is rich in carboxylate salts. Finally, the carboxylate salts undergo Kolbe electrolysis, which combines two organic acids to form an alkane. The alkanes are separated for sale,…
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