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Latin America could soon be producing a new and abundant source of renewable fuel which can be produced by the treatment of sewage by hydrothermal liquefaction (HTL), a technology currently being tested by the US and Canada.
Through the use of very high temperatures and intense pressure, the technology mimics the geological conditions that the Earth uses to create crude oil. While it takes millions of years to take place in nature, HTL completes the process in minutes, Brazilian paper Correo do Estado reported.
The end result is similar to oil extracted from soil, mixed with a small amount of water and oxygen, according to researchers at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL), which is associated with the US Department of Energy.
This bio-oil can be refined into ethanol, gasoline or diesel, according to the report.
In addition to producing fuel, the process could cut government costs as it virtually eliminates the need to transport, treat and dispose of sewage, an ongoing problem which needs to be resolved in Latin America.
For now, the technology has been licensed to the Genifuel Corporation in partnership with authorities in British Columbia, Canada, to build a pilot plant at an estimated cost of 8-9mn Canadian dollars (US$6-7mn).
Brazil could lead the industry in Latin American if the right types of partnerships are formed. Besides being the biggest producer of this organic waste in the region, the country is accustomed to using renewable fuel as it is ranked No. 1 in ethanol production in Latin America and second in the world, only behind the United States.
According to the report, some 30mn barrels of oil could be produced per year with the 34bn liters or so of sewage the US produces every day. As Brazil's population is 65% of that of the US, this could equate to some 19.5mn barrels per year for the South American country.