One solution, besides convincing everyone to stop buying anymore petroleum based plastic, is to turn plastic back to oil
By Linn Smith
April 28, 2014—Doing research for my article “Plastics and Bioplastics: What you need to know” peaked an interest in how plastics are converted back to oil–oil that could power cars. In this article I quoted a study from Columbia University’s Earth Engineering Center, “The amount of energy contained in the millions of tons of plastic in the U.S. landfills is equivalent to 36.7 million tons of coal, 139 million barrels of oil or 738 billion cubic ft of natural gas. If the plastic was recovered and converted into liquid fuel, it would power all the cars in Los Angeles for a year–and the fact is, there is now technology to do it!”
So, being curious, I researched this technology– turning plastic back to oil and this is what I discovered. The technical name for turning plastic back to oil is Thermal Depolymerization or TDP, which is a process that uses waste products, such as plastics, to turn into crude oil. According to Wikepedia, “It mimics the natural geological processes thought to be involved in the production of fossil fuels. Under pressure and heat, long chain ploymers of hydrogen, oxygen and carbon decompose into short-chain pretroleum hydorcarbon.
A Finite Amount of Oil
K. King Hubbert, an American Geologist, predicted in 1956 that there would be a peak in oil production due to a finite amount of oil in the earth and the millions of years it takes to form. Many believe we have reached this peak. In an article by Princeton’s, Kenneth S. Deffeyes, he states, “We all have to place our bets, doing nothing is equivalent to betting against Hubbert!” Doing nothing is equivalent to watching our earth destruct and handing it to the next generation while watching. And, even worse, criticizing those that are trying to move toward creating a healthier environment–or just giving up altogether! All avenues need to be explored in saving our earth. Do what we can, when we can, however we can!
Eliminating plastic is one way to save our planet. Petroleum based plastics may take up to a 1,000 years to decompose in landfills, while leaking pollutants into our soil and water, not to mention the dump in our oceans where islands of plastic are floating–appoximately 100 million tons! Who cares, right? Out of site, out of mind?
There is a move towards bioplastics, as stated in Planet Earth Weekly article, “Plastics and Bioplastics: What You Need to Know”. Today researchers are quickly working with alternatives such as vegetable oils, corn starch, pea starch and chitin from shrimp, crab and oyster shells to replace the petroleum used in today’s plastics. These products breakdown in a short time, plus add nutrients to the soil in the process of decomposing.
But in the meantime, there is plastic. Plastic that present inhabitants of the earth take for granted–the fastest growing component of garbage! What to do while transitioning to bioplastics? What to do with all that plastic that is still being manufactured from petroleum and will likely, if something isn’t done, be taking up space in our landfills for thousands of years and destroying our oceans?
Turning Plastics Back to Oil
One solution, besides convincing everyone to stop buying anymore petroleum based plastic, is to turn plastic back to oil. Many are doing just that! There are backyard scientists that have set up their own refineries in yards and garages. If you’re interested, search YouTube videos. There are many that will direct you on methods to turn plastic to oil on a small scale, using mostly recycled materials.
Several larger companies are in the business of turning plastic to oil and retailing the processing machines to do it. One such company is Plastics2oil, a U.S. based company in Niagra Falls, NY. Founded by John Bordynuik in 2009, who first created a desktop unit, this company has been serving the public since 2011. Mr. Bordynuik states, “When there have been attempts in the past to make fuel from plastic, it’s been lowgrade. In our case, we’re making highly refined, consistent fuel that’s within specification of any standard fuel.” This company’s processor claims to produce fuel that needs no further processing. It’s not an alternative fuel but the real thing! Plastic2oil has processed more than 8 million pounds of waste and produced 700,000 gallons of fuel, selling mostly to large industries. In 2015 the company shifted from producing and selling the fuel to also supplying the processors that turn plastic into fuel. They also do monitoring and maintance of their machines. These processors use natural gas to start-up and, once running, use their own fuels created from the plastic-to-oil process.
Another company is Blest.Co.Ltd, a company in Japan with a U.S./Canada/South American branch called E-N-ergy. Blest sells a B-240 processor, the smallest machine which processes 221 pounds of plastic per hour and weights about 2,000 pounds. It claims to process 528 pounds of plastic in 24 hours. with an output of 64.8 gallons per day. This processor can run off of a generator or alternative energy sources. The plastic needs to be granulated or shredded to put in the machine and creates less than 1% waste in the form of ash which is non-hazardous.The oil produced by the B-240 processor can be used in generators, boilers, ect and requires further refining to be used as gasoline. The Bor-20 processor refines it to gasoline. The Blest machines use microwave radio waves to break down the plastic.
So, until we can eliminate petroleum based plastics, these processors are one more step in creating a lasting, healthy environment in which to live and raise our children and grandchildren!