The new alchemy: Turning trash into electricity

March 22, 2007
Researchers at Purdue University have designed and built a portable refinery that converts food, paper, and plastic trash into electricity.

Purdue professor Nathan Mosier works with the tactical biorefinery, converting waste into electricity.

Purdue Agricultural Communication photo/Tom Campbell

The machine, designed for the U.S. military, could let soldiers in the field convert waste into power. It could also have widespread civilian applications.

The tactical biorefinery processes several kinds of waste at once, converting it into fuel via two parallel processes. A diesel engine then burns the fuels to power a generator. The machine's ability to burn multiple fuels at once, along with its mobility, makes it unique.

Roughly the size of a small moving van, the biorefinery could alleviate the expense and potential danger associated with transporting waste and fuel. Also, by eliminating garbage remnants — known in the military as a unit's signature — it would destroy clues that such refuse could provide to enemies.

Defense Life Sciences LLC, a private company, worked with Purdue researchers on the project. The Army is considering the machine for future development.

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