Bigger Problem Looms | Chemical & Engineering News
Volume 86 Issue 6 | p. 6 | Letters
Issue Date: February 11, 2008

Bigger Problem Looms

Department: Letters

The overheated but generally misdirected concern over how to get control of global warming hides a rapidly developing problem of increasingly polluted water supplies for many countries. The pollution is rapidly getting out of hand due to uncontrolled dumping of organic wastes across the globe and, for many poorer nations, may well become a more serious threat to their survival than global warming. However, a means to prevent this pollution can be tied into getting control of global warming.

News reports on expanding water pollution cause me to again stress that pyrolysis can destroy the toxics and germs that may otherwise pollute water supplies. This would go along with the other benefits of pyrolyzing organic wastes, including stopping needlessly reemitting carbon dioxide that occurs by biodegradation of the wastes, obtaining some energy, and recovering-in more developed countries-megabucks spent to maintain controlled dumps.

Once pyrolysis plants are set up, people could take discarded paper and related wastes and most plastics to collection stations for payment since some electric energy will be generated for sale.

Developing hydrogen from water via a catalyst and light would be the most favorable way to run the pyrolysis, with the distillate being refined for fuel or chemical intermediates (C&EN, Oct. 8, 2007, page 9). Although the distillate will have some undesirable by-products, burning them to fire the pyrolysis may power a turbine.

With the development of hydrogen from water and much greater use of windmills that have no greenhouse gas emissions and actually recycle some of the energy overload created by burning fossil fuel, we may soon have more curbing of greenhouse gas emissions than environmental groups are screaming for. The authors of the United Nations Scientific Expert Group report "Confronting Climate Change" state, "Even if human emissions could be instantaneously stopped, the world would not escape further climatic change."

Why? Because the 35% overload of carbon dioxide created over the past century will still be on the globe because no means of removing some of the overload is at hand. The proposal outlined here of using pyrolysis on organic wastes provides benefits of not only removing some carbon from recycling, but also a bigger benefit of perhaps curbing the ever-expanding pollution of the world's water supplies.

James A. Singmaster III
Fremont, Calif.

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