As the turn of the century saw an increasing demand for plastic from industries such as consumer packaging, healthcare, textiles, food, and beverages, among others, the plastic waste that follows it has multiplied to proportions that are significantly causing worldwide detrimental effects on the environment.
This, in turn, has prompted conversations among environmental activists and governments to implement stringent policies and regulations for effective management of plastic waste.
One of the most significant companies that are creating strides against plastic pollution is Biofabrik Technologies—a Berlin-based waste management company.
Its founder and director, Oliver Riedel, made a big claim that his company will transform the plastic obtained from the sea into marketable fuel through technology that he and his team of researchers have been developing in the past six years.
Currently, a prototype called WASTX Plastic has been developed, and production will begin soon, Riedel said.
Particularly, Riedel said that his WASTX Plastic plant, located near Dresden, will process up to 1,000 kilograms of non-reusable plastic with his prototype which can convert “1 kilo of plastic [into] approximately 1 liter of fuel.”
The company is said to involve the process of pyrolysis, a thermo-chemical cleavage process where plastics are converted to gas or liquid at high temperatures.
Specifically, the team of about 25 scientists and mechatronics engineers from Biofabrik have developed special reactors that can produce heat up to 500 degrees celsius of heat that will remove oxygen and other wastes such as sand and salt from the shredded plastic waste.
After the intense heating process and pressure from the unique reactors, a jelly-like product is formed, which Riedel likes to call “Royal Jelly.” He also noted that other than the benefit of upcycling the plastic waste, he can also earn money from selling the by-product.
Other than that, Riedel also sees his invention as a way to help other poor communities, such as refugee sites in Bangladesh. “The refugees will then be able to convert the plastic packaging of the relief supplies into fuel for the power generators directly on-site, so that they can load cell phones, for example,” Riedel said.
For the founder, “WASTX Plastic”, in which it booms and stinks of oil, is a “heart project”: “With our technology, people may start collecting more plastic on the beach or in the sea.”
From a perspective, there is more than enough of the garbage that he can source for his endeavors. More than 300 million tons of plastic are produced worldwide per year, where only a small portion gets recycled in waste management facilities.
Sadly, most of which finds its way to a landfill or into the environment where it will take hundreds of years to decompose and kill all manner of wildlife in the meantime.
Between 1950 and 2015, global waste was altogether 8.3 billion tons. Every German, for example, generates an average of 38 kilograms of plastic waste per year.
The idea of converting plastic into fuel is not a breakthrough discovery. Recently, a team of chemists at Purduehave also conducted their own research and development in attempting to create the same result, as reported in Vice.
As detailed in a paper published in Sustainable Chemistry and Engineering, the chemists discovered a way to convert polypropylene—a type of plastic commonly used in toys, medical devices, and product packaging like potato chip bags—into gasoline and diesel-like fuel. The researchers said that this fuel is pure enough to be used as blendstock, the main component of fuel used in motorized vehicles.
To turn polypropylene into fuel, the researchers used supercritical water, a phase of water that demonstrates characteristics of both a liquid and a gas depending on the pressure and temperature conditions. Purdue chemist Linda Wang and her colleagues heated water to between 716 and 932 degrees Fahrenheit at pressures approximately 2300 times greater than the atmospheric pressure at sea level.
When purified polypropylene waste was added to the supercritical water, it was converted into oil within in a few hours, depending on the temperature. At around 850 degrees Fahrenheit, the conversion time was lowered to under an hour.
The byproducts of this process include gasoline and diesel-like oils. According to the researchers, their conversion process could be used to convert roughly 90 percent of the world’s polypropylene waste each year into fuel.
“Plastic waste disposal, whether recycled or thrown away, does not mean the end of the story,” Purdue Chemist Linda Wang said. “Plastics degrade slowly and release toxic microplastics and chemicals into the land and the water. This is a catastrophe because once these pollutants are in the oceans, they are impossible to retrieve completely.”