With the increased focused toward sustainable living and zero waste living, manufacturers and consumers alike are now looking for environmentally friendly and sustainable ways of harnessing available resources. Among the various methods and materials that promote such efforts, processing used plastic to create additional fuel has gained a lot of popularity in recent times. This not only proves to be beneficial in terms of reduction of the quantity of plastic that ends up in landfills, but also provides an alternative source of fuel which doesn’t require additional exploitation of available resources.
Because plastic is created from naturally occurring resources like natural gas or oil, it contains hydrocarbons that are essentially another form of stored energy which can be turned into a liquid fuel source.
While the most popular way of harnessing plastic products such as plastic packaging and plastic polythene bags as a fuel is recycling and repurposing it, it no longer is the only way to upcycle this material for future use. As for the plastic that doesn’t get recycled, it can be used as a potential source of fuel as it still embodies energy in the form of hydrocarbons.
Scientists are constantly working on new technologies that will allow them to harness the power of plastic and convert it into an array of fuels. Such processes are otherwise known as "plastics-to-fuel" processes.
During this process, the non-recycled plastics are shipped to a facility that is equipped to convert plastics-to-fuel, where they are first heated in an oxygen-free environment and vaporized into gases through a process called pyrolysis. These gases are then cooled, condensed and separated for later use. Such technologies are increasingly scalable and can be customized to meet the specific demands of the various economies and geographies.
Previously, studies were conducted to understand the impact of using used pyrolysis to create bio-diesel. Crude oil generated from used plastic was fractioned into different petroleum products and tested to see if they complied with national standards for ultra-low-sulfur diesel and biodiesel fuels. The studies found that such diesel mixtures had an equivalent energy content and better lubricity than ultra-low-sulfur diesel without facing any compatibility problems.
Companies are even testing similar conversion models to suit community level conversions to allow homeowners to do their bit and conserve fuel. These units are intended to create gasoline which can be put to further use.
By converting used plastic materials, crude oil producers will also be able to provide the population with a cleaner burning fuel. This can be attributed to the low sulphur content of plastic. While mainstream diesel contains higher levels of sulphur, the diesel created by processing used plastic products has a reduced quantity of sulphur. By using this bio-diesel, the negative impacts of sulphur can be contained.
The benefit of using plastic to create alternative fuel not only solves the problem of plastic waste, but also helps reduce the emission of harmful gases in the environment while proving to be a cost-effective alternative to harnessing alternate fuel without damaging the ecosystem.
Mohan Naik oversees the digital marketing for XL Plastics, a leading name in the field of plastic converting machinery.