Statistics show that only approximately 5 percent of the worlds plastic produced yearly is being recycled.This is very alarming since plastic production is said to be increased by 3.8 percent per year until 2030.At this rate the accumulated plastic waste will be billions of tons and will end up in the ocean base,resulting in disturbed marine ecosystem.
Thankfully the growing awareness of this issue has encouraged renowned researchers around the world to join hands to find a sustainable solution to the growing problem of accumulating plastic waste on the earth.Although still in their developing stage, these research projects are using the chemical energy present in the hydrocarbon structure of the plastic to create a cleaner source of fuel unlike their traditional counterparts.
These research projects around the world on converting plastic to a better fuel is becoming a radical help to halt the growing plastic pollution we are facing right now.
According American Chemistry Council these plastic-to-clear burning fuel could generate about 39k jobs only in US which will result in a revenue worth USD 9 billion.
In 2016 a research team of Kishore Rajagopalan and B.K. Sharma from Illinois Sustainable Technology Center,in collaboration with the US Department of Agriculture has successfully converted plastic bags into fuel.
The team first converts plastic bags into plastic crude oil by extracting chemical energy present in the hydrocarbon structure of the plastic,which is then distilled further to produce two types of diesel and gasoline.This research proved that once the antioxidants added,the final output is much more superior diesel in terms of ignition quality and lubricity,than its conventional counterpart.
Another successful project was by a team of research chemists from the University of California, in association with researchers from Shanghai Institute of Organic Chemistry.In this project researchers successfully restructured the polyethylene found in plastic into liquid fuel that could be used as automobile fuel or industrial fuel.In this project the main feature is any kind of plastic wastes such as plastic films,bags,bottles etc. without any pretreatment could be used with the catalyst to restructure the polyethylene in plastic into the fuel.
The US firm Plastic2Oil invented ultra-low sulphur clear burning diesel.This innovation shows approx one gallon of clear burning fuel could be produced from 8.4 pounds of untreated plastic.This research also proved to be less energy consumer as the processor utilises its own off-gases as fuel.The distillation of this fuel does not require a distillation tower,hence a cost effective solution too.
In their project the Swansea University research team converts plastic into hydrogen fuel which could be considered as automobile fuel.They use photo reforming process to produce bubbles of hydrogen gas from the plastic waste.The main objective of this research was to scale down the cost of plastic recycling.In traditional method of recycling the plastic wastes need to be cleaned,treated beforehand.These method incur a huge cost of production for which companies hesitate to opt for plastic recycling.
As per Balance Small Business,recycling a ton of plastic bag would cost a hooping USD 4000 to a business,thus discouraging them to opt it.
These revolutionary research projects of converting plastic into clear burning fuel may have shown some significant solutions in arresting plastic pollution and might create a huge economic progress in terms of employment,and producing alternate environment friendly cost effective energy resources.Still they are facing some resistance from the Green Groups. According to Green Groups these solutions will lead to more plastic production than curbing them,as once these plastic driven fuel becomes vital part in industrial energy resource,thus would require more plastic to be produced in the future in order to meet the supply.
NGO Zero Waste Europe states that “member states would be locked in a situation where they would have to continue plastic waste’.
However there are many countries and personalities who backed these plastics-to-fuel soultions.In aviation industry these projects are heavily backed as these fuels would be a better and cost effective alternative to the current fuel in planes.
Countries like The UK, the Netherlands, the Czech Republic and Finland have already supports plastic-derived fuels. In UK several plants for the conversion of plastic into fuel have been set up.A company named Enerkem in Canada, is also planning to set up a plant which could convert 360,000 tons of plastic waste into 270 millions litres of clear methanol.Zame Eco Fuels and Alloys of Cyprus will start its operation in 2019 to convert plastic into fuel through chemical process.