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The End of Landfills

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I first read about this on Gizmodo in the summer and I have been meaning to write about it since.

This device made by Global Resource Corp. is capable of breaking down hydrocarbons into gas an oil. The implications of this technology far, far more wide reaching than most of the articles I've read even touch upon, excluding the previously linked Popular Science article.

Hydrocarbons are the basis of all organic chemistry. Coal, oil, rubber, plastic, plant matter, animal matter... pretty much anything that isn't a metal or mineral has hydrocarbons in it, and this machine can turn them to refined oil, diesel fuel and natural gas in a matter of minutes. The metal and mineral components are left unaffected.

Think for a moment about what this really means.

All the problems of extracting oil from the tar sands disappear with this machine. Every dry oil well on the planet becomes productive again since a machine like this can extract the oil from the sludge in minutes. Oil shale becomes oil.  Even more amazing, the toxic, oil contaminated sludge at the bottom of every industrial harbour becomes a fuel source and the left-over is clean, uncontaminated fill.

This isn't the sort of ultimately useless recycling done now where plastics are broken down into less and less useful types of plastic but never really go away. This takes them apart into what they were made out in the first place, suitable to be used as fuel or remanufactured into new high-grade plastics. Tires aren't simply ground up and turned into door mats, Astroturf and other products of limited usefulness with markets that don't come anywhere even remotely close to keeping up with the volume with which old tires are discarded.

Imagine going back to not separating your garbage, not worrying about the "correct" disposal of old paint, car batteries, used motor oil, fluorescent bulbs, etc. - because the industrial version of this machine will break down the hydrocarbons into useful fuel and the mineral and metal components are subsequently separable using the same techniques used in their mining in the first place. Toxic old paint will turn into oil and gas (as will the label) while the metal of the can and the metals and minerals in the pigment will be left behind to be separated and extracted by conventional means. An old motherboard would leave you with oil and a gob of copper, tin, lead, and gold. Every overflowing landfill on the planet is now potentially an oil field and a treasure trove of useful metals far easier to get at than conventional mining.

The machine itself does the processing in a vacuum and all the products, gas, liquid and solid are captured so in itself it is entirely non-polluting. Fed a diet of old tires it produces oil in a volume in excess of three times the amount of oil required to generate the electricity to run it.

At this point the process itself is not even a year old. There are only a tiny number of machines in operation and production will be ramping up next year. Watch this technology over the next few years. It has the potential to change everything.

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