DADE CITY — You flush the toilet, and waste heads to a sewage plant for treatment. But what happens after that?
County officials are considering a plan to microwave it.
Under a preliminary proposal, a north Florida renewable energy company would take the waste, along with other landfill garbage, and turn it into synthetic diesel fuel. Besides the recycling benefits, the plan might even save the county some money.
Another major selling point? It might not cost the county anything up front. If Pasco can provide enough carbon-based "feedstock," the company would partner with investors to build a facility to process the waste.
"I was really interested in what they had to say," Commissioner Ann Hildebrand said Tuesday, noting she met with representatives from the company for nearly two hours.
"Especially when they said it won't cost you anything," added Commissioner Ted Schrader.
The Newberry-based company is called Earth, Wind and Fire Technologies. (Yes, it's named after the '70s funk group.) President Michael O'Carroll explained how the process works.
Carbon-based trash from a landfill and human waste is shredded into small pellets and mixed with a proprietary material. The pellets are then microwaved, a process that uses less heat than incinerator or plasma technology.
The company can then extract the diesel. What's left is distilled water and a small charcoal pellet that O'Carroll said can be marketed as a soil additive. He said the company also has a separate process that produces methane gas that can run generators.
Right now, Pasco pays about $800,000 a year to truck dried human waste out of the county. The plan would eliminate those costs, and the county could use some of the diesel for school buses or fleet vehicles. Schrader said the county also could earn royalty payments from selling the rest of the fuel.
The idea is in the early conceptual stages, so officials haven't begun to think about possible sites. Commissioners are a long way from voting on any plan. The county would still rely on its waste-to-energy incinerator in Shady Hills to process most of Pasco's garbage.
Earth, Wind and Fire is pursuing similar bio-fuel plants in two dozen other communities, including a deal nearing completion in Knoxville.
Among the big questions now: Does Pasco County have enough sewage to feed such a plant? O'Carroll said he would need roughly 150 tons per day to make the project viable. That would generate an average of 12,000 gallons of diesel daily.
But if the project is feasible, he said, the company has financiers willing to pay for the plant's construction.
"We don't require the county to own the project," he said. "Nor do we expect them to take on the responsibility of capital funding up front."