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USF tries to prove trash to cash isn't science fiction

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TAMPA, FL (WFLA) -

The end of the first Back to the Future movie features Dr. Emmett Brown fueling his DeLorean Time Machine with trash. Three students and two faculty members at the University of South Florida don't see this as science fiction.

"The biodegradable portion of trash, which is a fairly large component, decays, and it releases methane and carbon dioxide," said Dr. Babu Joseph, a professor at USF.

"We have been researching methods to convert methane and other gases to liquid fuels like diesel and jet fuel," said Dr. Joseph. He and his team created a business called "Trash to Cash."

Methane is a greenhouse gas. Landfills must monitor the amount created by the decomposing trash. They are required to collect and dispose of it before it releases into the atmosphere.

Many landfills burn the methane, and others use the gas to produce energy using a generator. Dr. Joseph says that creating energy this way is more expensive than just buying electricity from the power grid.

Their innovation takes the unwanted methane gas from landfills and converts it to fuel for vehicles, a much-desired product.

Ph.D. student and member of the Trash to Cash team, Syed Gardezi says using their process a typical landfill can produce up to 7000 gallons of fuel per day. Their goal is to create a closed loop of fuel for landfills by using fuel made solely from landfill gases to power the garbage trucks.

"Every landfill takes 2000 gallons of diesel per day, for its truck and fleet. We have more than enough to cover that," said Gardezi.

USF has filed a patent on their innovation.  Basically, the team developed catalysts to promote the reaction from gas to liquid fuel.  Catalysts are tiny metallic particles that fill a reactor.  Once the methane gas enters the reactor at one end, it passes through the all the catalysts and is converted to liquid.

Dr. Joseph says the team is four to five years away from commercializing this process.  They still need money to build a full-scale reactor and a landfill to allow them to demonstrate their reaction.

They were recently awarded $100,000 in the 2012 MegaWatt Ventures Clean Energy Business Plan Competition, but more money is needed to make this innovation the real future.

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