DEVELOPMENTS IN SCIENCE AND INVENTION

The Utilization of Waste

HENRY C. NICOLS IS MOODY’S MAGAZINE October 1 1906
DEVELOPMENTS IN SCIENCE AND INVENTION

The Utilization of Waste

HENRY C. NICOLS IS MOODY’S MAGAZINE October 1 1906

The Utilization of Waste

BY HENRY C. NICOLS IS MOODY’S MAGAZINE

It is most entertaining to read how these magicians of industry, the chemists, have evolved uses for apparently the mot useless refuse of manufacturers. The amount of m my saved annually by the utilization of waste is well up in the millions and equals nearly seven times the annual production of gold in the United States.

SUCH remarkable progress has been made during recent years in the elimination of waste that it would seem that there was little left in this direction for the ingenuity of man and the creative force of science to accomplish. It has for years been the open boast of the Chicago packer that nothing of the hog escapes but the squeal. The refiner of oil can boast with equal truth that nothing escapes from the crude oil which he refines but the smell, and there are many other industries wThere the elimination of waste has been carried to a point of fully as great efficiency as that shown in either the packing or oil industry.

It is to the chemist that we largely owre this tremendous addition to our annual increment of wealth. Thirty years ago, for every ton of finished product turned out by our manufacturers there was from one to several hundred pounds of materials which were thrown away as waste. Not only was this so-called “waste material” considered valueless, but the disposition of it was often a source of considerable expense and annoyance to the manufacturers. Owing to the wonderful progress of chemical knowledge during the last

quarter of a century, and the constant finding of new revelations and uses for substances of all kinds, a complete revolution has been wrought in nearly every branch of the manufacturing industry. Instead of this waste material being a source of expense ta manufacturers, the experiments of chemists have shown how it can be converted into products which have a high marketable value, and it is no exaggeration to say that the value of products annually manufactured out of materials which thirty years ago were thrown away as waste to-day amounts to fully $500,000,000—a sum equal to nearly seven times the annual production of gold in the United States.

Sawdust was for years looked upon as an absolutely waste material,. and was either dumped into a stream of flowing water or thrown into a heap where it could be conveniently disposed of. During the last few years a process has been discovered, however, which has resulted in giving sawdust a value far above solid lumber. By this process, which combines the use of hydraulic pressure and the application of intense heat, the particles of sawdust are formed into a solid mass capable of being molded

into any shape and receiving a brilliant polish that is fully as beautiful as ebony, rosewood or mahogany. Ornaments of great beauty can be made in this way closely resembling carved woodwork. In the manufacture of such ornaments the only materials mixed with the sawdust are alum and glue. Imitation marble can be manufactured from a mixture of the finer grades of sawdust with ivory waste, waterglass and glue. The substance thus produced can take a high polish and resembles the finest marble. In Norway acetic acid, wood naptha, tar and alcohol are produced on a commercial scale out of sawTdust.

Successful attempts have been made to utilize the needle-shaped leaflet of the pine tree to produce an article of commercial value for textile and other uses. Factories have been erected, both in this country and in Europe, that convert the pine leaflets into what is called “forest wool,” wrhich has proven to be a suitable material for stuffing mattresses and articles of furniture in place of horsehair, for manufacture into hygienicarticles for medicinal use, and for articles of dress, such as inner wests, drawers, shirts and chest protectors. In the opinion of chemists the principal use of sawdust in the future will be in the production of sugar and alcohol. Sawnlust is practically pure cellulose, wrhich is easily convertible into sugar and alcohol.

For many years bituminous coal operators used to cast aside slack as waste. Later it was sold for five cents a ton, and the operators were glad to sell it at this price. To-day slack commands at the mine 75 cents a ton, or within five cents per ton of the price of runup-mine coal, and the sale of this by-product notv adds

many thousands of dollars a year to the profits of the large bituminous operators. The increase in the price of slack is due to the demand for fine coal which has arisen from the makers of cement. At first cement manufacturers bought lump coal and then pulverized it to fit for their purpose. One of the most enterprising manufacturers of cement some years ago began experimenting with slack, and he soon discovered that it would answer his purpose fully as well as lump coal and greatly reduce the cost of manufacturing cement. This manufacturer is now said to consume 140 tons of siack daily.

There are in the Allegheny Mountains numerous cliffs which are composed of almost solid quartz rocks. Until a few years ago it was thought that these cliffs w'ere absolutely worthless, wrhen a process was discovered by which it is possible to manufacture these quartz rocks into glass. As a result of this discovery these huge cliffs have assumed an important economic value. The rocks are first blasted and then broken into small pieces, which are in turn then ground into a powder. This powder is shipped to glass manufacturers, who convert it into glass by melting it in a furnace and adding the proper ingredients. By greatly reducing the cost of manufacturing the lower grades of glass it is claimed that this discovery has opened up an entirely new field for the glass industry. It has been known for years that coffins, tombstones, bricks, tilings and similar articles could easily be manufactured out of glass. Nearly a decade ago experiments showed that railroad ties—ties which will virtually last forever and which are entirely proof against decay—could successfully be manufactured out of glass. No serious

attempts were made to manufacture any of these articles on a commercial scale, however, as the cost of manufacture under the old conditions existing in the glass industry was prohibitive. Now that a process has been discovered for utilizing these cliffs of quartz rocks, however, it is claimed that glass manufacturers will be able to rapidly extend their field of operations, and there are even some enthusiasts who predict that the time will come when people will live in houses made out of glass bricks, walk on floors made out of glass tilings, sit in glass chairs, sleep in glass beds and be buried in glass coffins.

Thirty years ago the Chicago packer made little attempt to utilize the waste products of the abattoir. The blood was allowed to drain away, and the disposal of heads, feet are' tankage was a source of considerable expense, men being paid to cart t?;waste away and bury it. Gradually industries began growing up in the vicinity of the slaughtering houses using as their raw material the waste products of the abattoir. The packing houses later absorbed these industries, and during recent years the manufacture of valuable by-products out of the material formerly thrown away as waste has been one of their largest sources of profit. Each large packing establishment now has its combinations to render more valuable and extensive the already long list of by-products. The products of the grey brain matter of the calves are now employed in affections of the nervous system, such as nervous debility, nervous exhaustion, agophobia, St. Vitus’ dance, mental disorder and insanity. The blood of the slaughtered animals is congealed and manufactured into buttons, and is also utilized D

in the production of albumen for the use of the calico printer, the sugar refiner, the tanner and others. The bones of the animals are used for a score of different purposes, being manufactured into knife and toothbrush handles, chessmen, combs, backs of brushes, mouthpieces of pipes and various other articles. Black hoofs are used in the manufacture of cyanide of pottassium for gold extraction, and are also ground up to make fertilizer for florists, grape growers and others. Among the other articles manufactured out of the former waste products of the abattoir are glue, flypaper, sandpaper, gelatine, isinglass, curled hair, bristles, wool felt, hair felt, laundry soap, soap powders, glycerine, ammonia, bone meal, pepsin, poultry food, neat’s foot oil, and a score of other products. The annual value of the by-products of the packing industry all of which are manufactured out of what was considered a waste material thirty years ago, is approximately $200,000,000.

Prior to 1860 the disposal of cottonseed was a matter of great concern to both the ginner and the community. In the cotton plant twothirds of the contents of the ripe boll is seed while only one-third is fibre. For years the fibre w-as used in the manufacture of cotton, while the seed was thrown away as worthless. The seed was usually hauled to a remote place to rot or dumped into a stream of flowing water. With the growth of population and the increase of cotton culture this careless method of disposal of cottonseed became a great nuisance, and its low commercial rating is vividly indicated by a law passed in Mississippi in 1857 providing that every cotton ginner shall—

“Forfeit and pay the sum of $20

for every day he or she shall neglect or refuse to remove or destroy the cottonseed as aforesaid, to be recovered by warrant in the name of the state before any justice of the peace of the proper county for the use a benefit of said county. No person who shall be the owner or proprietor of any cotton gin shall be authorized to throw or permit to be thrown the cottonseed from such gin into any river, creek or other stream of water which may be used by the inhabitants for drinking or fishing therein ; and any person offending herein shall forfeit and pay for such offense the sum of $200.”

Out of this product, which was deemed a nuisance in 1857, there was manufactured in 1900, as shown by the last census, by-products having a value of more than $42,000,000. More than a score of products are to-day manufactured out of cottonseed, including butter, paper, fertilizer, cotton batting, cattle feed, soap, lard, cottolene, crude oil and salad oils. The butter which is thus artificially manufactured is as pure and wholesome as the best dairy product. The oil manufactured out of cottonseed resembles olive oil so closely in its properties that Professor Morgan, of the University of California, says it is practically indistinguishable except by chemical means, and even here the most delicate series of tests is required to distinguish between the two with certainty, no single test being adequate. Indeed, cottonseed oil has become such a strong competitor of olive oil that in Southern France the farmers are abandoning the cultivation of olive groves. Competent authorities say it is doubtful if olive oil will ever again recover its oldtime place, as cottonseed oil is being produced in increased quantities from

year to year and is rapidly gaining in the estimation of the public.

Whatever may be thought of the methods whereby the Standard Oil Company early succeeded in crushing out all competition in the oil industry, there can be no question of the remarkable business ability of the men who organized this corporation— an ability that amounted to almost a genius for avoiding all wasted energy and utilizing every possible means for reducing the cost of manufacture and increasing the profits of the oil industry. Nowhere was this business ability more strikingly shown than in the manner in which the Standard Oil Company early began to utilize the waste materials of the refiner in the manufacture of valuable by-products. During the early days crude oil was refined and everything but the refined oil was thrown away as necessary waste ; but no sooner had John D. Rockefeller entered the oil fields than he began looking for means whereby the waste products could be profitably utilized. The Standard Oil Company had hardly been organized before it sent its agents to Europe to engage the leading chemists of England and Germany and a large sum was spent in the erection of one of the most complete chemical laboratories in the world. It is doubtful if any capital ever invested in any manner ever reaped a larger return than the money which the Standard Oil Company expended in the erection of this chemical laboratory and in the employment of the most expert chemists in this country and Europe. John D. Archbold, vice-president of the Standard Oil Company, is authority for the statement that for the last ten years more than one-half of the profits of the company have been made out of

the manufacture of by-products. Indeed, so important has this branch of the Standard Oil Company grown, that if the company was to-day in a position where it was forced to choose between its refined oil and its by-products it would choose the latter. The company could throw into the ocean every drop of refined oil as fast as it was manufactured, and would still be able to pay handsome dividends to its stockholders simply through the sale of its by-products. The secret of most of these by-products is guarded jealously and the processes by which many of them are

manufactured are to-day entirely unknown outside of the laboratories of the Standard Oil Company. Some idea of the extent and character of these by-products, however, can be gained from the fact that the Standard Oil Company manufactures more than 200 remedies which enter into materia medica alone. Not once in a dozen times does a druggist compound a prescription in which one of the by-products of the Standard Oil Company does not enter. Among the leading by-products are gasoline, naphtha, paraffine, lubricating oils, vaseline products and aniline dyes.