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Birds: The De-List
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Interview with John O’Hurley: Garbage Man
Policy: Good Chemistry

Gecko sleight of tail; robo fish; Playboy bunny research; penguin poop; more.

Garbage Man
John O’Hurley talks trash—and energy.

On the TV show Seinfeld, John O’Hurley played J. Peterman, an eccentric businessman whose florid speech mirrored the descriptions in his mail-order clothing catalogues. The real O’Hurley is also an entrepreneur with a baritone voice, but he’s dead serious about his latest venture: becoming a partner in the Nevada-based green energy company Energy-Inc.

Audubon: What does Energy-Inc. do?
O’Hurley: We create integrated energy systems that take waste—garbage, tires, hog manure, medical refuse, almost anything with a BTU—and superheat it to 2,000 degrees without the presence of oxygen in a closed system, so unlike conventional power plants, they have very low emissions. This produces synthetic gas that can power a generator to create large amounts of energy, mainly electricity. These systems can power hotels, hospitals, businesses. We also create systems that take methane gas, a landfill byproduct, and refine it into a liquid fuel that burns cleaner than gasoline. So municipalities could run their garbage trucks on a byproduct of the waste their trucks are hauling.

How much garbage is required?
One truckload of garbage can produce enough electricity to power 500 homes for one year.

You’re opening a plant in Elkhart County, Indiana. Why there?
The Obama administration put its finger on Elkhart County as one of the places hardest hit by the recession. We chose it because it used to be an RV industry-manufacturing hub, so there’s the availability of highly skilled labor and empty manufacturing plants. We’ll be using waste tires from the Elkhart area to power the plant so it will be a model for what an industry can do with our equipment.

Why is this technology more widespread in Europe?
Energy costs are higher there. But now, with the rise of fuel prices here and the Obama administration’s push to tighten environmental standards, it’s become more attractive. I believe this is going to be “must” technology. Like it or not, our landfills are nearing full, and no one wants our garbage.

How would J. Peterman describe one of these units in his catalogue?
He’d say: “I was prowling the stone hallways of Christ Church College one rainy day when I peered into a dusty chemistry lab and caught sight of a large metal contraption. A jumble of pipes and gauges, wires and tubes, it had a certain space-age charm. I noticed a bespectacled man in a white lab coat, dropping in banana peels and candy wrappers. A whirring ensued. Then, Eureka! Lights flashed on. My God, I thought, these Brits are on to something!”

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