Friday, December 28, 2007


In August 2004, I penned a column humorously suggesting that biodiesel should be made with various kinds of aromas, since the sense of smell is a powerful one that can affect mood and attitude.

Now there is news that makes me hope they won’t take my automotive aromatherapy idea too far. In Canada, scientists have proposed turning used diapers into synthetic fuel.

On the face of it, so to speak, the diaper proposal makes sense,

and appears to work much as do other suggestions for sources of biodiesel. You take the organic material – no pun intended here; I mean stuff made of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen – heat it up without any air until it starts to break down into those elements, and then refine it. They crack crude petroleum like that, so why not crude Pampers?

And there is no lack of raw material. I’ve seen estimates that Americans alone go through around 18 billion disposable diapers a year. And as we boomers get older, that number is likely to climb. Heck, just collecting the used diapers from all the Wal-Mart parking lots would probably yield a million barrels of fuel a year.

Folks, we’re talking a “Dependsable” source of energy, and a second use of petroleum and wood products. (I wonder if the Vaseline on those diapers would create an octane boost?) While one can think of other castoffs that could also be turned into motor vehicle fuel, apparently there can be problems with, uh, contaminants, if you can believe that.

“If we try to take municipal waste and run it through a system like this, it would be too variable and you’d get all sorts of nasty surprises you’d have to deal with,” one of the researchers said. So liquefying plastic bags and other such materials is probably not going to happen right away.

But with hospitals all around Montreal, there is a continuous supply of dirty nappies. The idea might catch on among young parents concerned about greenness (environmentally, that is). A collection system has been proposed (somehow the image of the peasant collecting bodies in “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” comes to mind: “Bring out yer dirties!” “Eh, I’m not full yet!”). As one of the researchers was quoted as saying: “One of the beauties of the diaper is that it is going to be a very consistent input.”

No kidding.

Meanwhile, a bloke in New Zealand is preparing to try to take an experimental craft around the world using alternative fuels, including some biofuel made from his own body fat, collected by liposuction.

Pete Bethune and two pals collectively rendered up enough lovehandles and beer belly to make about 7 liters of biofuel. In many nations whose citizens are developing ever larger waistlines, this rather drastic commitment to the environment might be underwritten as a public health measure. And if the trend toward superhuge portions continues, it could certainly be a renewable resource, as well.

For that matter, instead of converting us all to Soylent Green, maybe we should all be converted into biofuel.