Nov. 12 - Researchers at the Argonne National Laboratory are developing a mobile reactor they say will one day play a crucial role in helping people after natural disasters like Hurricane Sandy. The reactor can convert kitchen and bathroom waste into a high energy fuel that can be made at home and used to power generators during a power outage. Ben Gruber reports.
Two weeks after hurricane Sandy slammed into the United States, tens of thousands are still without power. Many of those now suffering have generators but do not have access to fuel to keep them running. Dr. Philip Laible believes he has the answer to that problem, with a system that will allow people to generate their own fuel in times of crisis. (SOUNDBITE) ( English) DR. PHILIP LAIBLE, RESEARCHER, ARGONNE NATIONAL LABORATORY, SAYING: "So we envision down the road that we can have small little reactors wherever they are needed and producing an amount of fuel that will help, maybe not completely energise a whole operation but at least increase the endurance of any operation that you have going and decrease the amount of fuel that needs to be brought in for that process." Laible and his team at the Argonne National Laboratory outside Chicago are working on a bioreactor that can produce diesel-like fuel using bacteria they engineered. (SOUNDBITE) ( English) DR. PHILIP LAIBLE, RESEARCHER, ARGONNE NATIONAL LABORATORY, SAYING: "This organism is actually taking carbon from the environment and using energy that it has either secured using photosynthesis or from other sources in the environment and converts that into a fuel using the engineering that we have put in there and is actually not liking to keep that fuel inside of itself so it being spit out into the media where it can be recovered and used in a diesel engine." Laible says that unlike conventional fossil fuels, their bacteria-based fuel doesn't need refining - it's produced, ready to use. And there's another advantage - the reactor runs on organic kitchen waste and sewage, both of which are readily available in most households. (SOUNDBITE) ( English) DR. PHILIP LAIBLE, RESEARCHER, ARGONNE NATIONAL LABORATORY, SAYING: "The types and variety of carbons that can be used to convert into fuel is one of the strengths of this process because it is a bacteria than can use a lot of different things. Laible says it takes his reactor between two and four days to process waste into fuel but adds that a system can be developed which will generate fuel on a continual basis. He also says because the fuel is produced where it will be used - it's carbon footprint is significantly lower than standard fuel. Laible's research is some years away from becoming a commercially viable product be he says the era of home grown fuel self-sufficiency - whether in times of crisis or not - is coming.