Researchers at Indiana’s Purdue University have developed a portable machine that turns a variety of food waste and inorganic trash into electricity. Despite being small enough to transport in a 20-foot shipping container, the “tactical refinery”, intended initially for use by the military and disaster recovery agencies, is three technologies in one:
- a bioreactor that uses enzymes and micro-organisms to turn food waste into ethanol
- a gasification unit that turns plastics, paper, and other residual waste into methane and low-grade propane
- a modified diesel engine that can burn gas, ethanol, and diesel fuel in variable proportions.
The clever part is how the various components of the system are integrated. Kick-started by diesel, once warmed up the machine is ‘fed’ with garbage. The resulting ethanol and gas gradually displace the diesel fuel, which is reduced to a minimum drip. The main by-product is ash that needs to be removed every few days.
Once the developers achieve their objective of scaling the system down by 60%, I can visualise every survivivalist wanting one of these.