CATS: Turning plastics into petrol a far-fetched idea … not!

Number 33 in the Clean Air Technologies Series.

I have heard of fuel made from corn. It’s called ethanol. I have even heard of fuel made from trash. So, when I read about the notion of making fuel from plastic, what is my reaction? Sure, why not?!

In the Dec. 2014 Vegetable Growers News in: “Phantom company might be answer to plastic waste,” certified hydraulic specialist and Alfred State College Associate Professor Matthew Lawrence is one of several identified names article author Keith Loria mentions. According to the VGN correspondent, Lawrence said to work, non-recyclable plastic must be recognized not as waste, but for the extremely energy-dense resource it is.

Though, the thought of turning plastic into petroleum among other fuels, makes me stop and think: Can this be done cleanly?

Said Lawrence: “‘… [W]e need to recognize the fact that if burned at high temperatures, plastics can be burned cleanly, …’” Loria wrote.

The VGN correspondent further explained: “The only industry with the capability to burn the plastics is the cement kiln industry, which is highly regulated with a tremendous appetite for energy-dense fuels. Lawrence said cement kilns are very, very hot combustion chambers – a perfect location for the hydrocarbon chains in the plastic to be completely broken down.

“An increasing amount of research is being done on the subject. In addition to the work that Lawrence is doing, others are taking charge.

“‘China and India are leading the charge with a process called pyrolysis – basically a chemical process to convert plastic back into more recognizable fuel types like fuel oil, gasoline and natural gas,’ Lawrence said,” Loria wrote, once again citing Lawrence.

And, where would the energy-dense plastic being referred to come from?

Lawrence explained that since by weight around 10 percent of landfill content is plastic, such could be a viable source, according to the VGN correspondent, Loria adding that every year in the U.S., plastic, over 30-million-tons-worth of it, reaches landfills.

That’s a lot of plastic and a potential source of fuel.

Person amidst washed-up-on-shore-debris, Hawaii
Person amidst washed-up-on-shore-debris, Hawaii

Image above: U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

2 thoughts on “CATS: Turning plastics into petrol a far-fetched idea … not!

  1. “Can this be done cleanly?” Er, no. Ever heard of dioxins? Products of Incomplete Combustion? And why would you burn plastics when you could actually recycle it?

    • For recyclable plastics, yes, these should be recycled. Unfortunately, not all plastics are recyclable. The plastics-to-energy/fuel conversion process, judging from the article content, is intended only for plastics that are non-recyclable.

      Being that more than 30 million tons of plastic is ending up in U.S. in landfills each year, that is considerable. If a sizable percentage of this could be cleanly burned and turned into energy and/or fuel rather than left in a non-biodegradable state, then this plastics-to-energy/fuel concept has definite potential.

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