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How To: Fuel Your Car With Thanksgiving Leftovers

Question: What's greasy, grimy, and surprisingly useful?

Answer: Turkey guts"¦and a lot of other stuff, too. It just depends on how you process it.

If you're reading this, you're probably hip to the concept that Americans (and pretty much everybody else in world) have a bit of an oil addiction and that, unlike some things you could get yourself addicted to, the supplies aren't limitless. So, wouldn't it be great if we could make it ourselves? Produce oil just like the Earth does—through pressure and heat—only faster? No, we haven't been painting in an unventilated room again...

It turns out that DIY oil is not only possible, it's a reality. As you read this, a factory near Carthage, Missouri is turning tons of waste from a nearby turkey slaughterhouse into diesel fuel and fertilizer. How? A little thing called thermal depolymerization.

See, oil is made naturally when carbon (usually in the form of dead plants and animals) gets buried under tons of earth and is then smooshed and heated by the movement of techtonic plates. Needless to say, this takes a while. But, in 2003, a company called Changing World Technologies perfected a way to duplicate this process in a factory in a fraction of a fraction of the time—as little as 15 minutes in some cases. Better yet, because of the way the process works, it's far more energy efficient than any other available method of producing biofuel, yielding 100 British Thermal Units of energy for every 15 BTUs spent in production.

But wait, this gets better. Not only can thermal depolymerization turn turkey into black gold, it can do the same thing with just about any carbon-containing substance—from raw sewage, to old car tires, to cast-off computers. Annnnd, what doesn't get made into oil ends up as other handy products, such as the aforementioned fertilizer or useful industrial chemicals.

So why haven't you heard of this? Frankly, we have no idea. Part of the problem, though, is that when Congress drew up regulations to give biofuel-producing companies a tax break in 2005, they wrote the legislation in a way that excludes thermal depolymerization. This makes it difficult to get investors and to compete with the tax-break-advantaged. Nevertheless, we like thermal depolymerization—with every fiber of our gizmo-loving, tree-hugging being—so we're hoping that if we explain more about how this works, maybe you'll spread the gospel.

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YOU WILL NEED
Pressure
Heat
Some sort of carbon-based waste material

Step 1: Grind it up
Whatever you're starting with, from computer parts to turkey giblets, will need to be chopped and churned into a fine, grainy mess.

Step 2: Add Water
According to a May 2003 Discover magazine article, this is the step that makes Changing World Technology's version of thermal depolymerization unique. Other attempts to recreate the process tried to siphon water away from the waste. CWT figured out that if they add more, then they don't have to heat or pressurize the sludgy glop nearly as much as they would for dry materials—the water helps spread the effect of the heat more efficiently.
Step 3: Depressurize
By quickly pumping the heated, pressurized slop into a depressurization chamber, CWT makes most of the water instantly evaporate out, a necessary step that would take a lot longer and a lot more energy to do by boiling. If you're making oil from turkey, this is the point where powdery fertilizer, chock full of minerals from the bones, settles out.
Step 4: Keep it Hot, Hot, Hot
The remaining liquid is heated to about 900 degrees F and sent through a series of distillers that separate it into natural gas, two different qualities of oil, and powdered carbon. The gas is used to fuel the process and the rest goes up for sale. For about 200 tons of turkey bits, the whole shebang takes less than 24 hours.

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There May Be an Ancient Reason Why Your Dog Eats Poop
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Dogs aren't known for their picky taste in food, but some pups go beyond the normal trash hunting and start rooting around in poop, whether it be their own or a friend's. Just why dogs exhibit this behavior is a scientific mystery. Only some dogs do it, and researchers aren't quite sure where the impulse comes from. But if your dog is a poop eater, it's nearly impossible to steer them away from their favorite feces.

A new study in the journal Veterinary Medicine and Science, spotted by The Washington Post, presents a new theory for what scientists call "canine conspecific coprophagy," or dogs eating dog poop.

In online surveys about domestic dogs' poop-eating habits completed by thousands of pet owners, the researchers found no link between eating poop and a dog's sex, house training, compulsive behavior, or the style of mothering they received as puppies. However, they did find one common link between the poop eaters. Most tended to eat only poop that was less than two days old. According to their data, 85 percent of poop-eaters only go for the fresh stuff.

That timeline is important because it tracks with the lifespan of parasites. And this led the researchers to the following hypothesis: that eating poop is a holdover behavior from domestic dogs' ancestors, who may have had a decent reason to tuck into their friends' poop.

Since their poop has a high chance of containing intestinal parasites, wolves poop far from their dens. But if a sick wolf doesn't quite make it out of the den in time, they might do their business too close to home. A healthier wolf might eat this poop, but the parasite eggs wouldn't have hatched within the first day or two of the feces being dropped. Thus, the healthy wolf would carry the risk of infection away from the den, depositing the eggs they had consumed away in their own, subsequent bowel movements at an appropriate distance before the eggs had the chance to hatch into larvae and transmit the parasite to the pack.

Domestic dogs may just be enacting this behavior instinctively—only for them, there isn't as much danger of them picking up a parasite at home. However, the theory isn't foolproof. The surveys also found that so-called "greedy eaters" were more likely to eat feces than dogs who aren't quite so intense about food. So yes, it could still be about a poop-loving palate.

But really, it's much more pleasant to think about the behavior as a parasite-protection measure than our best pals foraging for a delicious fecal snack. 

[h/t The Washington Post]

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The Prehistoric Bacteria That Helped Create Our Cells Billions of Years Ago
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We owe the existence of our cells—the very building blocks of life—to a chance relationship between bacteria that occurred more than 2 billion years ago. Flash back to Bio 101, and you might remember that humans, plants, and animals have complex eukaryotic cells, with nucleus-bound DNA, instead of single-celled prokaryotic cells. These contain specialized organelles such as the mitochondria—the cell’s powerhouse—and the chloroplast, which converts sunlight into sugar in plants.

Mitochondria and chloroplasts both look and behave a lot like bacteria, and they also share similar genes. This isn’t a coincidence: Scientists believe these specialized cell subunits are descendants of free-living prehistoric bacteria that somehow merged together to form one. Over time, they became part of our basic biological units—and you can learn how by watching PBS Eons’s latest video below.

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