Global Technology - July 2019

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Waste plastic is a huge problem worldwide. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, landfills in the U.S. received 26 million tons of plastic in 2015, the most recent year for which statistics are available. China has recently stopped accepting plastic recycling from the U.S. and Canada. Meanwhile, conservative estimates by scientists say that at least 4. 8 million tons of plastic enters the ocean each year worldwide.

So, what if all that plastic could be recycled profitably?

Recently, a research group led by Washington State University scientists found a way to turn daily plastic waste products into jet fuel. As explained in the journal Applied Energy, they melted plastic waste at high temperature with activated carbon, a processed carbon with increased surface area, to produce jet fuel.

In the experiment, they tested low-density polyethylene and mixed in a variety of waste plastic products, like water bottles, milk bottles, and plastic bags, and ground to about the size of grains of rice. The plastic granules were then placed on top of activated carbon in a tube reactor at a high temperature, ranging from 806-to-1,060 degrees Fahrenheit. The carbon acted as a catalyst.

Once the carbon catalyst has done its work, it is separated out and re-used on the next batch of waste plastic conversion. When the carbon eventually loses its activity, the catalyst can be regenerated.

After testing several different catalysts at different temperatures, the best combination produced a mixture of 85 percent jet fuel and 15 percent diesel fuel.
 If this technology was implemented on a large-scale not only would this new process reduce that plastic waste, but very little of what is produced from the process would be wasted.

In fact, the new process can recover almost 100 percent of the energy from the plastic. The fuel is very good quality, and the byproduct gasses produced are high quality and useful as well.

According to the researchers, this process is easily scalable. It could work at a large industrial facility or even on farms, where farmers could turn plastic waste into diesel.

References

Applied Energy, October 2019, vol. 251, “Jet Fuel Production from...

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