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Turning Trash into Fuel. Thank You, Doc Brown!

It's well known that science fiction can inspire advancements in science and technology. Author Douglas Adams seemingly portended the universal translator well before Google started working on it, and his Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy molded into reality in the form of a sleek tablet called the iPad. And don't forget, Isaac Asimov was scribbling about walking, talking androids well before the Japanese invented robots that can play soccer and cook for you.

Now, iPads are cool, and robots are even cooler. But it's hard to top a trash-powered, time-traveling Delorean.

Refueling-doc-brown-trash-back-to-the-future-tank-phoenix-arizona-valley.jpg "I need fuel!"

I vividly remember the first time I watched Back to the Future. With its seamless blend of time travel, action, and comedy, the film instantly became one of my favorites. I also remember being absolutely wowed when Doctor Emmett Brown, after rummaging through a trash can, casually tossed banana peels, eggshells, beer, and the beer can, itself into the good ole "Mr. Fusion" attached to his Delorean. But while my thoughts did not evolve past the stage of awe, others saw the scene and decided to bring a trash-powered time traveling vehicle into reality.

The time travel aspect has proven a tad difficult, but last year, Aleix Llovet, a student at BarcelonaTech, created a small remote control car that can run on a mixture of aluminum pop tabs, water, and sodium hydroxide. When placed in the car's "gas" tank, the concoction sparks a chemical reaction that produces hydrogen gas. After the products of the reaction go through a filtration process, the hydrogen is used to feed a fuel cell that generates energy for the car.

"The car does not allow time travel, but you

can get a top speed of 30 km per hour with a range per charge of 40

minutes," Llovet and his fellow team members told Wired UK.

On a more macro scale, in 2009, All Power Labs of Oakland, California created a trash-powered Honda Accord by utilizing gasification technology. Gasification is achieved by reacting solid biomass or other carbonaceous solids within a heated chamber. In order for it to work, the chamber must reach a temperature of at least 700 degrees Celsius. To do this, large amounts of steam or oxygen are used to catalyze the reaction. The products of gasification are carbon monoxide, hydrogen, and carbon dioxide, which can be used as a fuel.

Gasification was actually widely used in Europe during World War II when petroleum became scarce. It is estimated that up to 9,000,000 vehicles were powered by gasifying wood. Today, more advanced gasification cars can run on any dry, carbon-based waste, such as wood chips or pine cones. Unfortunately, they don't run on pure trash straight from the dumpster just yet.

But who knows, with some ingenuity and a little inspiration from Doc Brown, perhaps some day we'll be driving super fuel-efficient vehicles powered only by banana peels and used coffee filters.