Veteroil: An Alternative Energy from Yard Waste

Thanks for your interest in Veteroil. Looking for better oil? Use Veteroil! Team proposes an innovative method for extracting energy from Yard Waste.

Team members from left to right: Will O’Connell, Breanna Allen, and Hector Ochoa.

The Problem:
Fossil fuels such as natural gas, coal, and oil, are major traditional sources of the world’s energy. We rely heavily on these resources for daily energy demands. However, we have passed the peak oil period, and now oil has become scarce due to overuse. Also, the current usage of fossil fuels is extremely harmful to the environment. The atmosphere suffers from an excessive amount of carbon dioxide, a major contributor to global warming and climate change. Alternative energy sources such as solar, wind, and geothermal only make up 3% of total energy in US (DOE, 2016). These sources are not feasible for large-scale production due to their high infrastructure costs. In addition, production of these energy sources in remote locations complicates the efficiency of transportation. Current practices of alternative energies are not sustainable options. Therefore, for human survival, it is crucial to discover new energy sources. Our team seeks to develop an innovative method that addresses this issue by extracting energy from the abundance of yard wastes. This not only secures our energy needs, but also benefits the environment. Currently, yard waste accounts for 20% of material in landfills. Out of 254 million tons of yard wastes produced in 2013, only 34 percent was composted (EPA, 2016). The other 167 million tons was trashed in landfills. If we dispose of yard waste at the national average rate of $45 per ton, it will cost us 7.3 billion dollars each year. Energy scarcity, environmental damage, and financial concerns are the key issues that yard waste energy aims to resolve.

The Solution:
During photosynthesis, trees and plants convert carbon dioxide and water to cellulose—a chain of thousands of glucose units. When dead plant and tree materials (yard waste) decay, cellulose is converted to substances with lower energy content such as methane, carbon dioxide, and water. Currently, biological or chemical methods are practiced to harness energy from yard waste. Composting is a biological process where yard waste is decomposed by an acting bacteria and heat is released. This heat cannot be efficiently captured due to the low temperature of biological reactions, around 140 F. Chemical processes for releasing energy include incineration, destructive distillation, and pyrolysis. Incineration, the process of burning yard waste, is not efficient due to the high water content. This high water content lowers the temperature of the flame and contributes to incomplete combustion that results in air pollution. Destructive distillation and pyrolysis are used to convert wood waste to methanol and ethanol, respectively. These processes occur in high temperatures of about 1000 °C. This requires a lot of energy, which is not cost effective. We propose an inexpensive innovative method for extracting energy from yard waste. First, wood waste is dried and shredded. Next, the shredded waste is mixed with a small ratio of triglyceride-based oil, and cooked at 200 °C. The end product is called Veteroil. We conducted several experiments and found that Veteroil has: 1) low activation energy; 2) low pollution release; 3) high flame temperature; 4) low amounts of leftover ash.

Impacts and Benefits:
Veteroil conserves natural resources, spares acreage reserved for landfills, and saves money spent on the production of fuel. Ethane, propane, and butane are environmentally hazardous gases currently used as external energy sources. Introducing Veteroil as a residential and commercial source of energy will eliminate the need for extracting and processing these unsecure sources of energy. Substituting fossil fuels with Veteroil, a bio-fuel, will reduce the amount of greenhouse gases. Furthermore, decreasing the amount of greenhouse gases emitted into the atmosphere decelerates the effects of global warming and helps prevent deterioration of the ozone layer. In addition to being an environmentally friendly fuel, Veteroil has many multifaceted measures of cutting costs. It minimizes the amount of land required to store and decompose yard waste. Also, it reduces the need for costly transportation methods of bringing yard waste to landfills. Extracting energy from yard waste reduces the cost associated with the production of fossil fuels. Aside from production, fuel importation has exorbitant costs and contributes to the depletion of the natural resources on a global scale. By reducing the need for outside fuels, Veteroil serves to cut expenses associated with importation. Substituting detrimental energy sources with Veteroil will decrease costs and leave a lasting positive impact on our environment.

Role of the Community/Industry Partner:
Our community partners generously helped us find our problem and develop a proper solution. We began with a community-based project to extract energy from tree pits in the beginning of year 2016. Our aim was to raise awareness about the cost and loss of resources associated with trashing tons of pits annually. We reached out to multiple organizations in our community including City of Dearborn Development Services and State of Michigan Department of Environmental Quality. Eventually, we were fortunate enough to be referred to the Wayne County Department of Public Services, Land Resource Management (LRM) Division. LRM are in charge of landfills, transfer stations, and processing facilities in 34 communities in Wayne County, MI. LRM’s mission correlates with our objective of educating people about recycling, composting, and waste reduction. In collaboration with LRM, we learned the extent to which yard waste harms our environment and depletes our community revenues. This discovery steered our focus towards yard waste reduction. Current methods for processing yard waste in our community consist of composting and mulching. These methods have been practiced for small quantities of yard waste. There are still thousands of tons of yard waste trashed in our community. Our team proposed the idea of converting yard waste to energy and LRM showed interest and supported this idea. We invited them to Henry Ford College’s campus for a presentation on converting yard wastes to energy. We are looking forward to collaborate with LRM to further commercialize our innovative process.