The process relies on heat and pressure to break down the long hydrogen, carbon and oxygen polymers that make up plastics. From there, these elements are recombined into the shorter hydrocarbon chains that can be effectively burned as diesel or gasoline.
Plastic to Fuel Conversion: An Elegant Solution to Two Major Environmental Concerns
It’s no surprise that the world is suffering from a serious petroleum product dependency. From the gasoline that powers our vehicles and machinery to the plastic packages our food comes in and the synthetic materials used in prosthetics, petroleum is a key ingredient in modern life.
This dependency is not without its problems and limitations.
Firstly, fossil fuels are a nonrenewable resource; secondly, the machinery used in extracting petroleum from the earth is in itself a major consumer of fossil fuel; finally, plastic products are non-biodegradable and currently clog the world’s landfills. All told, global plastic production is at around 150 million tons per year, an alarming amount of this – an estimated 70% of all plastic, and sometimes more for specific types of synthetic polymer – is discarded as waste.
Why Increased Recyling Isn’t The Solution
Until now, few satisfying solutions have been offered to the problem. Plastic recycling is not a viable solution to the problem of waste as plastic can only be recycled two to three times before too much of its integrity is lost to heat degradation. Although recycling can help extend the lifespan of plastics, it ultimately does not keep the majority of plastic products out of landfills further down the line, and the act of recycling itself burns yet more precious fuel.
Five years ago, scientists in Japan developed a new technological breakthrough that offers a solution both to plastic waste and the never-ending demand for fossil fuel. This process can convert used plastics back into oil, which can then be refined and used to power a vehicle or any other motorized device. The result is an efficient method for disposing of plastics with minimal waste while avoiding the more environmentally problematic aspects of drilling for new oil.
The process relies on heat and pressure to break down the long hydrogen, carbon and oxygen polymers that make up plastics. From there, these elements are recombined into the shorter hydrocarbon chains that can be effectively burned as diesel or gasoline. Through this process, every million tons of plastic can be converted into 42 million barrels of ready-to-use fuel.
Although this technology has existed for years, there was no large-scale plant for refining plastic into fuel. In small quantities, the process is not cost-effective. Expanded to a larger scale, however, with a solid profit plan and technical experience, the process shows real promise.
Enter Poly2Petrol, an ambitious startup that can convert recycled plastic into clean fuel in quantities that make it a cost-effective and competitive source of gasoline.
The project is still in early stages of development, so it'll be a while before Poly2Petrol releases commercial fuel for the public. As the idea gains steam, though, it's bound to inspire others to try this same path, possibly ushering in a revolutionary solution to plastic waste and limited fossil fuel resources. Although this process obviously cannot completely alleviate our dependence on fossil fuels, it certainly spreads the resources far wider to squeeze every drop of value from the petroleum mined from the earth.
Zeke A. Iddon is a British writer and advocate of improving global thinking on climate change, sustainability and the green energy industry. In his capacity as a writer for Poly2Petro, he also hopes to help improve our collective knowledge on plastic recycling (and its current failures), if only in a small way.
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