Trash Talk Sparks Powerful Idea

trash garbarge oil gasoline recycling

Not in your wildest dreams can you imagine what Brian Appel plans to do with junk computer parts. His plan: to revolutionize energy.

"The first thing were going to do is grind it, were going to shred it up, separate all the metals out and all the minerals and were going to turn the rest of the carbon-based materials into an oil and gas," he explains.

Either he's crazy or about to turn the oil industry on its head, reports CBS News Correspondent Wyatt Andrews. Because its not just computer parts. Appel claims his Philadelphia plant can make oil from trash, animal parts and almost any kind of junk.

As long as it's carbon-based, "We can turn it into an oil and gas," says Appel.

Appel says the basic science of turning garbage to oil is simple. The hard part is figuring how long to cook the garbage in what looks like an outsized bootlegger's still.

The process basically replicates the way the earth itself makes oil. The earth takes any carbon-based waste and subjects it to heat and pressure for roughly 1 million-odd years. Appel's machines do that in three hours.

At the end of the process, those old computers produce methane gas, water and oil.

So is this too good to be true? Maybe not.

In his lab at Iowa State University, engineering professor Robert Brown turns refuse into oil all the time. The science exists, he says, but the process has always been so expensive. It's cheaper just to drill for oil.

"It's a matter of what the cost is and that would be where my greatest skepticism is," says Brown.

But Appel says he has solved the cost problem and he has believers. The city of Philadelphia plans to turn its treated sewage into fuel oil. At a new plant in Missouri, Butterball Turkey plans to use its leftover turkey parts to produce 500 barrels of oil every day. Let your imagination go from there.

And what does Appel see?

"I clearly see the end of landfills, and I see the end of incinerators," says Appel. "There will be no more accumulation of things like dioxin."

Not to mention a reduction in the need for imported oil. And if this is the future, it is here. The market is about to test Appel's claim he can cheaply spin straw into gold.