DARPA LOVES TRASH

141i1p01.jpgU.S. bases of the future are supposed to be self-sustaining. But, right now, they produce too much junk -- more than 7 pounds per day, per soldier. And a whole heap of "personnel, fuel, and critical transport equipment are needed to support the removal and disposal" of that waste, the Pentagon notes.That's why the Defense Department's far-out research arm, Darpa, has just given a Menlo Park, California "gene synthesis" company a grant to give the junk a second life, by turning the plastic waste into fuel."Plastic packaging waste has energy content that can approach that of diesel fuel, Darpa notes. "Diesel fuel has lower heating value of 43.9MJ/kg and hydrogen content of 12.5 weight percent. Plastic heating values can range from 26-43MJ/kg with a hydrogen content of 5-14 percent. If energy content of the waste is optimized for secondary use as a fuel source, at today's level of packaging being discarded, a military unit could achieve well over 100 percent self-sufficiency for their generator fuel needs."Professor Richard Gross, at Polytechnic University, New York, thinks he has a polymer that can get the job done. It'll have "properties similar to polyethylene and will be prepared from renewable resources with a cost comparable to current commercially manufactured plastics," he claims. DNA 2.0, Inc., out of Menlo Park, will produce the enzymes needed to make the designer material for Darpa's MISER (Mobile Integrated Sustainable Energy Recovery) project.

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