179: Waste Not, Want Not – Crazy Innovations For Reusing Waste


Matt and Sean talk about waste recycling projects, profit, and the mailbag.

Liquid Metal Battery Video mentioned: https://youtu.be/m8751tkBU_Q

Watch the Undecided with Matt Ferrell episode, Top 5 Crazy innovations for Reusing Waste https://youtu.be/895ixEFT3X8?list=PLnTSM-ORSgi6ObB8Ao0IpRhOgYO27wbSd

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In today’s episode of Still to be Determined, we’re going to be talking about waste not, want not. Hey everybody. As usual, I’m Sean Ferrell. I write some stuff for kids and adults, including my most recently released The Sinister Secrets of Singe. But that’s not important right now. What’s more important is that here on Still to be Determined, we are going to be talking with that Matt of Undecided with Matt Ferrell.

Yes, he’s my brother. But we still enjoy each other’s company. We don’t let family, we don’t let the bloodlines keep us from, from actually wanting to talk to each other. How are you doing today, Matt? I am

so tired, Sean. I spent eight hours at the new house yesterday, uh, setting up the new network, trying to get stuff configured.

And there was a lot of work yesterday. And I am Woo! I am no longer a 20 year old. Yeah. Yesterday took it out of me. So I’m a little tired today.

So your house at this stage is effectively done. Like the… The walls are up, right? Oh yeah, the walls are up. Yeah. So what were you doing network wise? Were you trying to feed cabling through walls or just plugging stuff in and actually getting stuff to talk to each other appropriately?


the house is almost done, like the tile is finally in, the plumber’s finishing up his work, there’s like little things, they’re getting inspections, um, and one of the things that was the problem was we failed the fire inspection because our smoke alarms, which are all wired together, are supposed to like, when you push one, they all go off, and there’s a heat alarm in the garage, which is by code, and for some reason, if you trigger the inside alarms, Everything goes off as it should, but if you go out in the garage and trigger the heat alarm, nothing else goes off in the house, and so we failed, and we’re trying to figure out what’s going on there, um, so I spent a good deal of time trying to troubleshoot that, and then the network wiring was already in the walls, it’s already been fed, but I have a whole, this, Sean, this, when you see this, it’s, I’ll probably put an image of this in the podcast on YouTube, it’s a little server rack, like, it’s, Got, you know, 60 some jacks, and they’re all plugged all over the place, security cameras, all this kind of stuff, so yesterday I was setting that all up, and that took hours of time, so I spent a lot of time yesterday standing on ladders, trying to get smoke alarms working, and I was in a little tiny closet, trying to like plug all these cables together and It’s probably 95

degrees in the house.

It was actually comfortable yesterday because the house, because it’s so well insulated, it’s kind of cool inside. It’s like 79 inside the house, but the humidity was just killing me. So like we had the Windows open to get a breeze going through, but it was still, man, I was a sweaty mess. Did you

look like an early 80s basketball player?

Were you wearing a

sweatband just with your glasses strapped to your head? It would have been a great look. So on today’s episode of Still To Be Determined, we’re going to be following our typical, typical, I say in quotes, new, in quotes again, model. I’ll also put model in quotes just because I like to be consistent. And. We’re going to be taking a look at some mailbag comments from previous episodes and we’ll also be visiting Matt’s most recent episode, which was from just a few days ago, which was about the top five waste recycling, uh, systems.

that are currently out there in the world trying to take things that we chuck and turn them into something that we can actually use. Before we get into that though, I wanted to share some comments from our previous episodes like this one from episode 178 in which, and I think this is a topic that keeps resurfacing in the mailbag, which I think is interesting, robotic surgery developments.

Again, we’ve talked about this a couple of times, but there was this from Bukoropa who wrote Imagine the reverse of a Gundam, and this tapped right into my sci fi, uh, brain. Imagine the reverse of a Gundam, a micro robot that’s controlled by a surgeon using a suit to interpret his movements and VR that lets the doctor see what the robot sees.

There was a part of me that was just like, yeah. That sounds cool.

What’s great. I think if you go back to like, what was it? The fifties and sixties, you have the movie, The Fantastic Voyage, which it was like, you know, we’re going to shrink people down to a size that they can go inside. It’s like, no, we don’t need to do that.

We can just build a robot that has like a virtual control where it’s like somebody’s still in the normal world, but controlling a tiny little robot inside your body. Yeah. Makes so much more

sense. It does make so much more sense. And it goes back into the. I think that Bukaropa is, is putting this up there as like, just imagine that, but it is actually somewhat close to what the doctors are doing because they’re using haptics and the controls are designed to give them the sense of resistance in preparation for making proper choices when they’re doing the microsurgery.

So it is a little bit like this and it wouldn’t be a huge leap to put that doctor. In a full face VR screen to say they’re immersed in that moment, they can really viscerally feel themselves as preparing to attack that tumor or open up a passage in the, in the human body. So, Yeah, reverse Gundam. I think that’s great.

There’s also another side of this of that. We never really talked about, which is if you fast forward into the future, even further remote surgery. So it’s like you could have the best specialist that’s in whatever thing that has to get done. That could be on the other side of the planet. Doing the surgery remotely, um, it could open up new possibilities for access to top tier medicine in theory.


But then the also opens the door for the nightmare scenario, which is Minecraft, uh, trolls hacking into your server and just coming in and just like knocking everything down with their axes. I’m farming for wood. There was also this from episode 178 where somebody brought up your new house, which you just spoke about.

JMac wrote, Matt, have you considered using your house as a thermal battery during the day when it’s sunny and your solar panels can supply all the power? You overcool your house so you don’t need to run the AC at night using the grid. And you use the same thing in winter, but overheat instead of overcool.

With your well insulated house, could that make it practical? Is that something that you’ve given any thought to? Yes.

Uh, the YouTube channel Technology Connections actually has some really good videos on doing this exact technique and how he, it’s how he does. He lives in the, uh, I think the Chicago, Illinois kind of area.

And he does this exact thing. And he talks about how it’s actually reduced his electricity usage dramatically and it works very well. He’s comfortable throughout the day. So it’s like his air conditioning is not running like during the day at all. And he’s very comfortable because he’s basically supercharged his house overnight.

Um, I’ve been thinking about that and my house could probably pull that off pretty easily. The question for me in the, I want to experiment with it is because of the geothermal system of how energy efficient it is, it does a really good job just maintaining the temperature. Consistently over long

periods of time.

Would you be working against that geothermal process?

Correct. So it’s like, I do want to experiment with it, but I have a feeling for my specific setup, it may not make sense, but I want to see what’s what, because for my scenario, it may not work.

Yeah, the insulation of your home, as you talked about, At the beginning of this talk saying, Oh, the house is so well insulated.

It was actually a nice 79 degrees. And just for context, like what is the temperature outside

mid eighties? Oh, it was, it was 90. Okay. Something like that. Yeah. Cause

for comparison’s sake, like what does a poorly insulated house look like? The 19 teens building that I currently live in. Yeah. The sun rises directly forward from our front door.

Our face, our house basically faces east by about 11 o’clock in the morning. My son’s room, my son’s room being the front room looking out on that street. My son’s right. He has a alarm clock that when I bought it, Didn’t even occur to me that it had a built-in thermostat in it. So one day I was in his room leaving something for him, and I saw on the alarm clock what looked like a little temperature reading and I picked it up and looked at it and I’m like, oh, it does have, it has a built-in thermostat.

That’s kind of neat. But it will by midmorning be 90 degrees, 93 degrees in his bedroom.

And so your house is like a car, . So

our house is like a car. Yes. So when you wanna talk. A poorly insulated versus a well insulated home, Matt’s house built in an environment where it’s 95 degrees outside and inside it’s a cool 79, although balmy.

Uh, here we have the opposite problem, where as soon as the sun comes up, my son’s room skyrockets into the 90s, and my son is also prone to forgetting that he has an air conditioner, so there are days where he emerges from his room looking like he’s leaving a sweat lodge. It is

wild, heady days here in Brooklyn. From a previous episode of Matt’s Undecided channel, this one about the NASA battery, just a quick revisit to this conversation in which Matt talked about battery tech, which has been. Available for NASA and because of basically, you know, you can correct me if I’m wrong here, we’ve talked about this a couple of times, basically price point like NASA, of course, cutting edge at the time that all this was implemented and then you give us five decades and it suddenly becomes passe, but now is revisiting other uses here on earth.

There was a comment from Leon Chuck who jumped in to say have you considered discussing liquid metal battery as an industrial powered storage unit invented at MIT and made by Ambri claims near infinite numbers of charge cycles, no charge memory, high duty cycle, no thermal runways, runaways, and based on cheap, Antimony and Calcium presently at several trial sites.

Have you heard of liquid metal batteries? Are you going to be doing something with liquid metal batteries? Yeah. And is this in fact Terminator 2? It is Terminator 2.

And I actually already did a video on Ambri. A year and a half ago, maybe? It might be a little longer than that. It caught my eye a while back.

Um, it’s a really, really cool technology. It has a lot of potential because of that near infinite number of charge cycles. It really doesn’t go bad, which is just incredible. And Since I made that video, they have a bunch of pilot projects that have rolled out, a lot of more testing and data that’s come up, so I might need to revisit this, because enough time has gone by that there’s been enough progress since I first talked about them, but it’s a really, really exciting battery.

I actually went

to their website after reading this comment, and it looks like they’ve got a lot of stuff that’s currently, they look very much like they are actively in the market, as opposed to just testing things out, and so in the comments, I think, I When we post this video, a link to your earlier video should be included in the podcast comments.

So we’ll put that below. So for anybody who wants to click through that link and watch the original video, and I also would be interested in a revisit. That sounds really cool. So on to discussion of Matt’s most recent video. This is the top five crazy innovations for using waste. And this episode dropped on August 1st, 2023.

And not unexpectedly, a conversation like this. A topic like this is going to create a lot of feedback and there was. Some very interesting, like, when you’re talking about waste re usage, you hate to say hands on commentary, but really that is what we saw here. There were some comments like this from MindBlockAndroid, who wrote, Matt, I work for a water treatment company in Central America.

We implemented a combined coagulation, flocculation, advanced oxidation, and anaerobic biodigestion treatment plant for a small brewery in El Salvador. The potential methane yield from the brewery wastewater is enormous. Unfortunately, we do not have experience with harvesting the generated biogas, but it is a very high quality gas, especially thanks to the advanced oxidation step.

before the bioreactors. Also, hopefully in the future anaerobic bioreactors can be turned into MFCs to self sustain an electrophent advanced oxidation reaction. That would be the holy grail for water treatment. I like this comment, first of all, for its very sciencey nature. This is an individual who clearly knows what they’re talking about.

I also like the fact that it is not U. S. centric. This kind of Advancement in waste treatment is going to have global impacts only as long it is globally implemented. It is so important for us to understand that these technologies not only need to be advanced, but they need to be shared. And I’m curious, Matt, have you…

Run across in your research, any indication that projects like this, that start in one region, how readily do the people coming up with these new technologies and these ways of, of, um, Making advances in waste treatment and waste reuse, how often and readily do they share them in ways to actually get them propagated as quickly as possible to all regions of the world as opposed to treating them as a private commodity that is meant to be controlled?

Do you see anything that looks like? No, unfortunately. It seems to stay in the proprietary knowledge. People are looking to get paid or do you see anything that indicates, okay, there are projects that are being done globally to increase the ability globally to be able to make these advances. It, it’s

a mixed bag from what we find.

It depends on where the research is coming from. A lot of times if it’s coming from a university research kind of group and they’re publishing papers publicly about the, what they’ve done. and they’re trying to get it vetted and like getting other organizations to do their research and to kind of confirm that it actually does work the way it’s supposed to work.

That’s going to be just out there for everybody to take advantage of. The flip side is sometimes some of this research at some universities is then kept kind of private and then sprung out into its own private business that then tries to commercialize it. You see this a lot, like from MIT, like there’ll be something that comes out of MIT.

They publish a paper that has… You know, the specifics on certain aspects of it, but there’s, it’s under some kind of patent and then it gets folded out underneath a company. And the researchers now are running that company and they’re trying to privatize it and do all this commercialization to make money off of it.

It’s a free market. So it’s like, that’s kind of the way it works. But unfortunately, when it goes that path, it’s what you’re talking about. It’s like, it’s not going to be . Widely available because they’re trying to commercialize it. So it really depends on the university, what their goals are. Are they doing the research for the sake of the research or are they doing the research and trying to commercialize it?

It’s a real mixed bag, which is, which is unfortunate that it’s, it’s done that way.

Yeah. I’m reminded of a model of pharmaceutical research that was, In my work life came across my desk and I continue to go back to it in my mind as a model that would benefit a lot of different technology, pharmaceuticals, medical research, waste treatment would be a place where it’s the idea of a major trust being put together that holds a huge repository of funding and then a breakthrough product instead of being controlled by a patent holder.

The patent is effectively given over to the trust and the trust gives a monetary award over a period of years and we’re talking large scale monetary awards. Let’s say 100 million over a 10 year period or something like that. Even larger, depending on how big an impact and how big a product it might be.

The trust then rewards the person with the breakthrough with this monetary award that lasts over a period of years. And that allows the trust then to sell licensing for that product far below profit making goals. So you end up with Pfizer makes a breakthrough on a drug. They give the patent to the trust, they earn their money, they get research costs back, but they also make a profit, but the breakthrough drug is not sold for 1, 000 a pill.

And here’s another case where I think that kind of model could be effective, where you have a waste treatment breakthrough, but then it gets proliferated quickly. Across the board, because people in different regions where they might not be able to afford hiring a company, to set something up for them, could in fact, hire the trust that holds the license, and the people who invented the process, are still making bank.

So, it’s This is one of those things where I, you know, we have talked about it before that we live in a society where capitalism pulls a lot of levers, if not all of them, and there are benefits and negatives to any system. And one of the benefits in the capitalist system is the drive for breakthroughs to become an entrepreneur.

There is that incentive. The downside is positive impact of new breakthroughs has. A really long gestation period because it takes time for adoption, cost cutting, and the best tool for the job may be ignored because it’s too expensive right now or because people simply don’t have the technical know how or money to Pay for it.

And that’s unfortunate. There was also comments from users or viewers like Jay Hawk, who shared this anecdote, one of my first experiences upon arriving in South Korea was the smell of human feces in the rice paddies in April, that was nearly 35 years ago. and had been the norm for generations. Flushing toilet paper was discouraged since it was difficult to separate out during waste treatment.

You were expected to toss the paper in a trash can instead. So, one of the things I liked about your video was you’re placing this very much in the context of we really have been living in a waste reuse . System. Yep. For the entirety of our lives. The this is, this is how the world has always worked.

Animals eat things, animals poop. The poop is beneficial to the plants. That is how evolution put all these pieces together. Yep. One animal’s waste. One bio waste is another creature’s. Uh, it’s circle, nourish, circle of life. It’s the circle of life. Hakuna matata. Here we go. But what your video talks about is we live in a society where we’ve very, we’ve through various means created systems that are not self sustainable.

And it’s about returning to sustainability. It’s about returning to that balance. And I’m curious, I’m curious. When it comes to something as generationally understood as, Oh yeah, we take the waste, we put it in the rice paddies, and then the rice is nourished. How many, how much of your research, like, and I’m not looking for a raw number, but you clearly, you and your team researched across the board in a lot of different ways.

How many things did you not include in your discussion simply because they were so old? They were so… Incorporated into various cultures. It was like, well, that’s not a breakthrough. That’s not new. That’s just the way things work there. A lot.

We, like when we started researching this, there was a whole bunch of possible things we could have talked about.

And a lot of them were like that Shimugawa from Japan and things like that, that Go back centuries, thousands of years that we’ve been doing forever and they’re fascinating, but there were so many of them. It’s like, well, how do we pick which ones to talk about? And is it really a breakthrough? Because it’s like in Asian countries, they’ve been doing that forever.

But over here in Western countries, we looked at human poos, icky, black plague, spread of disease. And it’s like, it’s not, we shied away from it from our own past in history. But. We never really figured out how to use it effectively. It’s like, that’s not really a breakthrough. So it was like, we started kind of like just trying to cherry pick the ones that we thought were the most interesting of the batch.

Um, but there was a lot that we could have put in this video and it would have been a 60 minute video. So there was a lot we could have talked about.

And just as a closing note, I’m curious, what was number six? What was number six? Yeah, you had the five. What was the one that didn’t make the cut? Oh, man. Oh, man,


I, I don’t know if we looked at it that way. It was more of a, well, which ones do we think are the most interesting? And it was like, well, this one, absolutely. That one, absolutely. And then when we got to five, I was like, let’s just stop here. And so it was not like, oh, that’s number six, but we got to cut it.

But it was just a, I’m trying to remember, uh, which one it was that we cut. And I can’t, it’s like, there was, uh, it was linked to the, the one with the, um, um, yeah. The project Barbara with that horrible acronym, uh, with the reusing like food waste for creating like plastics for cars. Uh, it was linked to that.

I can’t remember exactly what it was, but it was something along the same lines of taking food waste and making something out of it that was a close relation to that. And we, I wanted to talk about it, but I was like, ah, I can’t, let’s, let’s put it to the side because you know, this one with Barbara was more, a little more interesting.

So I would say that was probably the thing

that we kind of caught. Interesting. My, we’re currently in the last stages of getting my son prepared to go off to college in the fall. Yes. I feel old. And just yesterday My partner and I were at a container store and we were looking for things that might be useful for him and we got him a laundry basket and it was we were coming home with the laundry basket read the label and it turns out the laundry basket was made from sugarcane biomass.

So it was basically made from molasses according to the, to the write up on the card. And it was a very flexible, nice plastic mesh laundry basket. I thought that’s fantastic. Maybe something right out of the process that you cut from your video so maliciously. When

you gave it to your son, he could look at it

and go, man, this is sweet.

So listeners, what do you think?

Do you have a experience with some kind of recycling project in your community or in your background that you’ve seen? Let us know in the comments, jump in and maybe plant some seeds that might turn into another video from Undecided on that topic. Don’t forget, if you’d like to support the show, you can leave a review at YouTube, Apple, Spotify, Google, wherever it was you found this, go back there, leave a review.

Don’t forget to subscribe. And don’t forget to tell your friends, all of that really does help support the channel. And if you’d like to more directly support us, you can click the join button on YouTube. You can also go to stilltbd. fm. Click the, become a supporter button there. Both of those ways, let you throw coins at our heads, the welts heal, and then the podcast gets made and we appreciate you.

Thank you everybody for taking the time to listen or watch. And we’ll talk to you next time

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