KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Someday, if the hopes and dreams of investors in a small plant in southwest Missouri come true, Americans may be using oil derived from what is left of a turkey after it has gone through a rendering plant.
The blood, guts, skin, feathers and bones, called turkey offal, are being converted into oil at the plant in Carthage, about 50 miles west of Springfield. Owners of the plant announced this week that they have begun selling between 100 and 200 barrels of the oil per day.
The plant is operated by Renewable Environmental Solutions, based in Downer's Grove, Ill., which is a joint venture of ConAgra Foods Inc. and Changing World Technologies, Inc.
A method called thermal conversion process converts the offal from turkeys at a nearby Butterball plant into oil, fatty acids, natural gas, minerals and carbon.
The process can convert any carbon-based form, essentially by speeding up the method the earth uses to break down dead plants and animals into petroleum hydrocarbons. Using specific heat, pressure and water, the feedstock's long molecular chains are broken into gas that is recycled to run the plant, water that is returned to municipal water streams and the other products that are sold.
The advantages of the process are significant, according to Brian Appel, chairman and chief executive officer of Changing World Technologies.
Benefits of process
He said it uses far less energy than other waste-to-energy products, creates fewer toxic emissions and destroys most pathogens in the feedstocks, while creating environmentally friendly fuels and fertilizers.
If the process becomes widely accepted, it would reduce the mountains of animal waste accumulating in the world, help reduce global warming and prove that biomass is a viable alternative energy, Appel said.
"All this adds up to reducing our dependence on volatile parts of the world," Appel said.
Appel acknowledges that some critics say the process cannot work as well as supporters claim or won't become economically useful.
"What you have to do is build the first one, quiet the critics who are putting doubt into the market and then prove you can build these on a large scale," Appel said. "It will take time to develop. ... You have to start somewhere, and this is the start."
Leonard Bull, associate director of the Animal and Poultry Waste Center at North Carolina State University, has seen presentations on the thermal conversion process and liked what he heard.
"I'm very supportive of it," said Bull, who is not connected with the project. "That technology offers a lot of possibilities."
Bull suggested the biggest hurdles facing Renewable Environmental Solution will be finding markets to make the plants profitable and eliminating political and market barriers that currently discourage alternative energy production.
The oil produced at the Carthage plant is being sold to oil blenders and local people for use as a heat source. A local utility also is testing the product. When the plant is fully operational this summer, it will produce about 500 barrels of oil, which will be sold at prices competitive with No. 2 diesel oil, Appel said.
The entire project, which included initial testing at Philadelphia's Naval Business Center, costs about $80 million, with the plant at Carthage costing about $25 million. Investors have paid about $25 million, while the federal government has added about $5 million in grants, Appel said.
RES is currently undergoing environmental assessments required to build plants in Colorado, Alabama and Nevada, he said.
Bull said other companies and investors interested in alternative energy programs will be watching the Carthage plant closely.
"If it's successful economically as well as technically, then it will make it easier for others who have similarly complex technology to get backers, investors and move forward," Bull said. "If it doesn't, it will have the opposite effect."
P.J. Samson, president of RES, is unfazed by the pressure.
"We get generally positive responses, a lot of people saying this should be done and it's great we're trying it," Samson said.
"Of course, some folks say it can't work. I just ask them, 'What do you want me to do with my oil?"'
On the Net:
Renewable Environmental Resources: http://www.res-energy.com
Changing World Technologies: www.changingworldtech.com