Alternative energy often means the better-known sources like solar, wind power, or biofuels. A new form of alternative fuels recovers energy from post-consumer or post-industrial plastic wastes that cannot be recycled efficiently. Technologies for creating these fuels attempt to solve two big problems: the overabundance of unrecycled plastic in landfills, and the creation of domestic energy sources. Several of these plastics-to-fuel (PTF) conversion processes are on the verge of commercialization in the US.
The waste-to-energy (WTE) industry began by approaching polymer wastes as a problem to be eliminated, but failed to come up with financially feasible methods, Jay Schabel, CEO of PolyFlow, told us. Previously, the only purpose for creating fuels was burning them for heat, but the quality and selling price of those fuels is low. Schabel says:
You can't sort your way to financially sustainable success. With a toothbrush made of different plastics, for example, the materials you can recover can never justify the effort it takes to sort them. So if a technology had a high cost of sorting on the front end, and produced a product with a cheap selling price, it couldn't survive.
Common household items made of mixed plastics, whether clean or contaminated, can serve as a feedstock for PolyFlow's pyrolysis-based plastics-to-fuel conversion process. (Source: PolyFlow)
Plastics-to-fuel energy recovery methods offer a different approach by creating technologies that can become profitable. These technologies are aimed at the non-recycled plastics (NRPs) that would otherwise go into landfills, since the highest-BTU waste stream available is polymer.
In conventional WTE plants, municipal solid waste (MSW) is burned and the heat is used to produce steam in a closed-loop process, Jeff Wooster, global sustainability leader for Dow Performance Plastics, told us. That steam either produces process heat for operations like paper mills or utilities, or it's converted to electricity. This produces lots of energy from plastic and a fair amount from paper and wood, but very little energy from other sources.
WTE processes are the least efficient for plastic, said Greg Wilkinson, past president of the Canadian Plastics Industry Association. "Recovered fuel is more selective. Here, you take some components of the waste stream and turn them into fuel for narrower uses."
For those interested, the 4R Sustainability research report mentioned in the article can be found here: http://plastics.americanchemistry.com/Plastics-to-Oil
A more recent study, also funded by the ACC, is an environmental and economic analysis of four plastics-to-energy conversion technologies: pyrolysis, gasification, plasma arc, and anaerobic digestion. That one can be found here: http://plastics.americanchemistry.com/Sustainability-Recycling/Energy-Recovery/Environmental-and-Economic-Analysis-of-Emerging-Plastics-Conversion-Technologies.pdf
Great article Ann. Especially all the numbers and links to explore really help.
This tech should be a great money maker for equipment suppliers and small business using it to make fuel, thus money. The price of gasoline, diesel will be $10-11/gal in just 5 yrs in today's $ because of 4B new oil users.
Anyone know what plastic make what and exactly what is the problem with PET and about the 50% like it?
I'd like to do a Plastics to fuel unit just for kicks plus I might need one in the future. My EV's are fine for transport only needing fuel for long trips.
I'm amazed no comments about a tech that can about solve the plastics waste, pollution problem while helping solve others like fuel security. This is really important tech in so many ways making 50k jobs, helping energy security and nicely improving the quality of life, especially that in the water but ours too.
Jerry dycus; One of the 'small' units produces 1 gallon of oil per hour. Another 'small' unit consumes 22 lbs of plastic and produces 2.7 gallons of oil per hour. How would you feed one of these ? How much plastic waste do you think a household would generate ? And would it be the best 'grade' of plastic to feed one of theswe systems ? I think this is a great concept, but I don't think it would be a good fit for household use, yet. Also, I have looked into wind turbines, but not really seriously - the wind where I live is not enough to power one. I like the idea of solar for household water heating. I don't know if the efficiency of photovoltaic cost-justifies a single-home system.
Many countries reuse virtually all paper, plastics glass, metal, and have no landfill. Thorium reactors more economical and safe are thorium reactors, by bombarding thorium compounds with neutrons it becomes radioactive parallel to unanium, when problems occur, shut off the wave resonant frequenct and amplitude of neutrons, and radioactivity ceases to exist, plus thorium is more abundent than uranium, using the reactors currently used to supply electricity---Gasoline from coal becomes cheaper to distill from liquified coal when petroleum reaches 34 dollars a barrel. Hitler fueled his armed forces with coal gasoline and diesel, politicians lobbies, cash bribes, manipulating the epa, prevents us from doing the right thnigs
While the smallest Blest units may be "too large" for home use their capacity is about right for use by small groups of people in a neighborhood, or a strip mall of stores, as Jerry suggests and as is currently done in Japan. When the company finishes developing the solar-powered version for use on TOP's boats, that one might be small enough for home use.
Thanks for the additional links Ann. I've been following JBI for the last year. There's so much controversy around the way the comapny's being run, that it's interferring with the day-to-day progress.
It's a great idea given the world situation. If they can get more gov't contracts, wider appeal and use will follow.
The old phrase "follow the money" applies here though. I've noticed over the last few years, it seems to be in most industries and countries best interest to keep the price of oil high-even artificailly high. That's quite a shift from previous decades.
No doubt that we need viable alternatives but, as usual, the "how" and not the "what" needs to be examined.
Personally - I wish we could get the government out of all this. The whole economics and marketplace interaction between various green and "non-green" technologies is confused by introducing government money and mandates into the mix. Plus its picking winners and losers. Solyndra comes to mind.
That said, this is interesting technology with high potential. Right now, the company I work for ships all sorts of plastic scrap over to China. Whatever we cannot recover and use internally goes there. I have no idea what they do with it.
My guess is the situation at my company is just a microcosm of the plastics industry and would be curious to know how many other plastics processors do the same. Maybe at some point it would pay for processors to recover energy from their scrap - if reusing the plastic itself isn't feasible.
Where is the Gov in this Droid? It doesn't need it at all. From what I've researched and Ann's numbers it's clear it's profitable to do.
What I want is the huge subsidies to big oil, coal which are in the order of $500B/yr from health to oil war, etc costs. If that we in them where it belongs, paid for by those who cause the problems, costs, then RE is clearly cheaper now in many cases and sites and needs no subsidies.
You need mandate to keep us from going off a cliff when oil spikes. Just how much do you think an oil recession costs? We've had 5 over 35 yrs or so.
We need to get millions of small energy producers, say 1 every 10-20 people to collect, convert the closest viable RE and sell it to the others instead of our money going to protect oil dictators and international oil companies that do their expensing here but keep profit overseas. What thanks for protecting them. For 50% of that money we could be energy independent in 5-7 yrs.
I see many small 1-5 person businesses because collecting is the biggest cost, one must be close to the supply so must be kept small, making a nice profit. Since oil will only go up over time, it only gets more profitable.
Tim and naperlou, these technologies, primarily pyrolysis, could not be widely used previously because they are just on the verge of scaling up. One of the reasons it's taken so long is because of widespread misunderstanding of what pyrolysis is and what it entails, on the part of both law-makers and citizens/voters. Much of this has been due to confusion about its name and what it means, and to confusing this technology with those that do, in fact, burn. However, even those that do, like WTE, are, by law, entirely closed-loop emission-contained systems.
Doubt the govt would invest in this, even if it does make sense. Green "investment" is, IMO, about securing the votes of a particular group. This tech creates and burns (horrors) petroleum products. Combustion of any kind will be anethema to them.
Dennis, I'm not sure which technology you mean that "burns," but the main one mentioned in this article, pyrolysis, does not. Despite the Greek word for "fire" at the root of "pyrolysis," when applied to the chemical conversion of plastics the term doesn't mean burning or incineration. As the article states, "Pyrolysis is the thermochemical decomposition of a material without the presence of air or oxygen." As just mentioned, even WTE, which does burn, is by law an entirely closed-loop emission-contained system. Today, this is a non-issue, at least in the US.
Joseph Stalin was said to have said " he who votes doesn't count, but, he who counts the votes counts " obama takes this seriously, by assigning ACORN spinter groups responsibility for census, which includes voter protocol, he plans to be relected by whatever method it takes, being in control of the country gives him the authority to investigate whomever he selects, and investigate, or not all compli]aints regarding election fraud, like the 2008 election where thousands of voter fraud compliants went uninvestigated by Holder His Attorney General. Our future looks bleak unless there is intervention to eliminate criminality from government---Palin was planning to end lobbie influence in law making, McCain planned to end affirmative action, or biggotry in he muticultural nation we are, micromanaged by affirmative administraitors assigned their jb because of color rather than job integrity, the significant variable of any position of authority. This mistake has caused chaos with uqualified personnel forcing their misinformed opinions on americas citizens, This should not be interpreted as racial, its simply doing he right things or doing the wrong things.
How about using the sun's energy directly to break apart the plastic molecules so that they can be reassembled into fuel. The benefit of directly driven solar decomposition is that it would not affect the power grid at all, and it would have fewer conversion losses. Just add enough energy to push the plastics back to the original petroleum stock, or something like that. After all, ultraviolet does break plastics bonds when we don't want it to, why not utilize that process when it could be useful.
William, if you mean just letting plastic sit out in the sun without further treatment, the problems with that method of decomposition are: a) it takes way too long, and b) while it's taking way too long to decompose, particles get into the ecosystem and consumed by fish and birds, and poison water and soil. This is well-known by everyone involved in various forms of WTE and PTE. Or did you mean something else?
Ann, No, the idea that I had was using solar energy, both light and heat at the same time, to break the large molecules up. Essentially a solar furnace with ultraviolet as well..
Leaving the plastic out in the sun does break it down, but it would be a very long time for anything useful to be created.
So the big deal is putting in the right amount of energy, to cause just enough decomposition. The process would indeed be a form of pyrolysis, but with the UV as well, it would be more effective, I think.
Ann, I am not aware of anyone using this method. It just popped into my head that since both heat and ultraviolet attack the bonds in polymers, that a combination should be even more effective. OThers are certainly welcome to use the concept as long as I get credit for coming up with it. It will be a nice addition to my resume, and it may be of some benefit to humanity as well.
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