mr. fusion home energy reactorYou’ve all seen Doc Brown’s trash compactor/combustible engine from Back to the Future, but now with high gas prices strangling the consumer, a new push is forming to make this concept a reality. Is this really a good idea?

The government appears to be heavily backing this idea. Subsidies for projects looking to make fuel from waste are now worth on average twice as much as projects looking to create advancements in ethanol.

In the New York Times article today about the race to turn garbage into fuel, they explain how a few new companies are opening shop to get the ball rolling:

On Friday, a company called Fulcrum BioEnergy said it would start construction later this year on a $120 million plant at the Tahoe-Reno Industrial Center, in Storey County, Nev., to make 10.5 million gallons of ethanol a year from 90,000 tons of garbage. Operation would begin in early 2010.

In Montreal, another firm, Enerkem, plans to use arsenic-contaminated utility poles from the provincial electric company. On Wednesday, the Los Angeles County Regional Planning Commission approved a plan by BlueFire Ethanol to build a $30 million garbage-to-ethanol plant on 10 acres next to a landfill in Lancaster, Calif.; construction will start soon, the company said.

A handful of small companies has long made a diesel replacement from waste oil, or sold kits to individuals to do the same. One company in Carthage, Mo., even turns turkey guts into fuel.

Converting tons of garbage, utility poles, and turkey guts into usable fuel sounds like a great idea, but is that stuff any more environmentally friendly to burn and chemically alter than the oil and gasoline refinement process we have today? If it is, then great. I’ll be the first one slaughtering 12 turkeys a day and harvesting their guts to power my future rocket car.

But what if this idea of using garbage as a fuel really takes off? Will garbage become a popular commodity? Just look at what happened with the idea of converting the corn crop into ethanol. Corn prices are sky high and the demand is causing farmers to grow less of other crops. By default, this is making wheat and prices of other scarcities higher.

Think about it. I imagine a Mad Max-style world where we all ride around on these super efficient cars and mopeds that all run on garbage. Sound great, right? But we’re out there cruising around looking for little pieces of garbage because, people can no longer create trash at the same rate that we once could. In part thanks to the ‘green movement’ and Al Gore’s ‘Inconvenience-ness’, we’re horrible at making garbage. We recycle everything, we’re totally eco-friendly and the phrase ‘useless waste’ is incomprehensible to us.

Take the doomsday scenario even further and imagine ‘green’ motorcycle gangs patrolling the world’s landfills, murdering and stealing from anyone trying to create or collect their own garbage.

Is that a world we really want to live in?

New York Times: Gassing Up With Garbage, July 24, 2008