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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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NASA, JPL-Caltech
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Space
It's Official: Uranus Smells Like Farts
NASA, JPL-Caltech
NASA, JPL-Caltech

Poor Uranus: After years of being the butt of many schoolyard jokes, the planet's odor lives up to the unfortunate name. According to a new study by researchers at the University of Oxford and other institutions, published in the journal Nature Astronomy, the upper layer of Uranus's atmosphere consists largely of hydrogen sulfide—the same compound that gives farts their putrid stench.

Scientists have long suspected that the clouds floating over Uranus contained hydrogen sulfide, but the compound's presence wasn't confirmed until recently. Certain gases absorb infrared light from the Sun. By analyzing the infrared light patterns in the images they captured using the Gemini North telescope in Hawaii, astronomers were able to get a clearer picture of Uranus's atmospheric composition.

On top of making farts smelly, hydrogen sulfide is also responsible for giving sewers and rotten eggs their signature stink. But the gas's presence on Uranus has value beyond making scientists giggle: It could unlock secrets about the formation of the solar system. Unlike Uranus (and most likely its fellow ice giant Neptune), the gas giants Saturn and Jupiter show no evidence of hydrogen sulfide in their upper atmospheres. Instead they contain ammonia, the same toxic compound used in some heavy-duty cleaners.

"During our solar system's formation, the balance between nitrogen and sulfur (and hence ammonia and Uranus’s newly detected hydrogen sulfide) was determined by the temperature and location of planet’s formation," research team member Leigh Fletcher, of the University of Leicester, said in a press statement. In other words, the gases in Uranus's atmosphere may be able to tell us where in the solar system the planet formed before it migrated to its current spot.

From far away, Uranus's hydrogen sulfide content marks an exciting discovery, but up close it's a silent but deadly killer. In large enough concentrations, the compound is lethal to humans. But if someone were to walk on Uranus without a spacesuit, that would be the least of their problems: The -300°F temperatures and hydrogen, helium, and methane gases at ground level would be instantly fatal.

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iStock
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Feeling Anxious? Just a Few Minutes of Meditation Might Help
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iStock

Some say mindfulness meditation can cure anything. It might make you more compassionate. It can fix your procrastination habit. It could ward off germs and improve health. And it may boost your mental health and reduce stress, anxiety, depression, and pain.

New research suggests that for people with anxiety, mindfulness meditation programs could be beneficial after just one session. According to Michigan Technological University physiologist John Durocher, who presented his work during the annual Experimental Biology meeting in San Diego, California on April 23, meditation may be able to reduce the toll anxiety takes on the heart in just one session.

As part of the study, Durocher and his colleagues asked 14 adults with mild to moderate anxiety to participate in an hour-long guided meditation session that encouraged them to focus on their breathing and awareness of their thoughts.

The week before the meditation session, the researchers had measured the participants' cardiovascular health (through data like heart rate and the blood pressure in the aorta). They evaluated those same markers immediately after the session ended, and again an hour later. They also asked the participants how anxious they felt afterward.

Other studies have looked at the benefits of mindfulness after extended periods, but this one suggests that the effects are immediate. The participants showed significant reduction in anxiety after the single session, an effect that lasted up to a week afterward. The session also reduced stress on their arteries. Mindfulness meditation "could help to reduce stress on organs like the brain and kidneys and help prevent conditions such as high blood pressure," Durocher said in a press statement, helping protect the heart against the negative effects of chronic anxiety.

But other researchers have had a more cautious outlook on mindfulness research in general, and especially on studies as small as this one. In a 2017 article in the journal Perspectives on Psychological Science, a group of 15 different experts warned that mindfulness studies aren't always trustworthy. "Misinformation and poor methodology associated with past studies of mindfulness may lead public consumers to be harmed, misled, and disappointed," they wrote.

But one of the reasons that mindfulness can be so easy to hype is that it is such a low-investment, low-risk treatment. Much like dentists still recommend flossing even though there are few studies demonstrating its effectiveness against gum disease, it’s easy to tell people to meditate. It might work, but if it doesn't, it probably won't hurt you. (It should be said that in rare cases, some people do report having very negative experiences with meditation.) Even if studies have yet to show that it can definitively cure whatever ails you, sitting down and clearing your head for a few minutes probably won't hurt.

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