By Tuan Nguyen
Posting in Sustainability
A Japanese company has created a machine that turns environmentally unfriendly plastic bags into crude oil for fuel.
A Japanese company has created a machine that turns environmentally unfriendly plastic bags into crude oil for fuel. Oh but wait... now we have that little pesky problem of carbon emissions.
The idea for such a technology has been around for a while since plastic bags are made from oil, and so it's conceivable to reverse the process. Envion, a Washington D.C. based tech start-up, has already opened a large-scale facility that converts 10,000 tons of plastic back into oil each year.
But what makes the machine from Japan-based Blest Corporation unique is that it can be installed for home use rather than for industrial purposes. Yes, for about $10,000 dollars, you can have your very own appliance that only needs one kilowatt of power to convert about two pounds of plastic into a liter of oil.
Here's a quick, non-technical breakdown of how the machine works from CleanTechnica:
His invention is actually a non-polluting, fully contained process that heats up the plastic, traps the vapors and channels them through an intricate system of pipes and water chambers. These, in turn, cool the vapors and condense them back into crude oil. This crude oil can be used in generators and even some stoves. An additional refinement step converts the crude oil into gasoline.
Environmentalist groups haven't been too enthusiastic about this type of technology, obviously. In an interview with the Washington Post, a Greenpeace spokesperson expressed some doubt over Envion's machine.
Environmental experts didn't immediately know what to make of the company's claims. A research director with the environmental organization Greenpeace said that he hadn't heard of this particular technology but that his instinct was to remain skeptical.
"There are so many schemes like this," said Kert Davies, citing plans he's heard that would make sustainable fuel out of everything ranging from turkey carcasses to carbon dioxide. "I get calls every other day from someone who has some invention that magically makes the world whole."
But from a pragmatic perspective, the U.S economy still has a ways to go to wean off of crude oil. At the very least, producing oil from plastic bags can lessen our dependence on oil-rich nations and reduce the deluge of non-biodegradable trash piling up on landfills.
Photo: Blest Corporation
Feb 17, 2011
1) yes i know this is a long dead discussion and i am beating this dead horse for little purpose. 2) yes, plastic to oil recycling technology is ancient. hell, people were doing it since "day 1." The chemists and chemical engineers in the petrochemical industry actually realize that polyethylene and polypropylene and polyisobutylene all have the same basic chemical structure as crude oil/petroleum.... since the advent of industrially applicable cracking catalysts, people have been recycling plastic this way. 3) the "point" of this invention, as well as the "plastic 2 oil" technology that the author discovered in the first 3 results of the google search he did while "researching" for this article..... and similarly the same information that all of us learn when we perform the same/similar searches.... is an increase in catalyst activity, less pressure requirement, more/wider applicability (eg it works with more types of plastic than traditional technologies), and successfully proven operation. 4) if you think the "point" of this company's efforts was to sell a micro-scale setup for use in the home or small businesses so that home or small businesses can use recycled/waste plastic to supply fuel to their heating system..... you are denser than depleted uranium. the "purpose" of creating such a system is PURELY marketing: "wow look at how great our technology is! its so easy and safe, you can use it in your own house without light industry electricity and super high pressure vessels and a degree in chemical engineering! THUS ITS EASY AND CHEAP TO SCALE IT UP AND RUN IT ON A PROCESS SCALE!" no one invests money in development of something like this to sell capital equipment (which means you buy it once and never again, so your business model will only last for a finite period)..... as a highly niche product...... to people who spend very little money and only after much quibbling and hand wringing (consumers and small businesses). you sell it to big companies so that you can make tens or hundreds of millions of dollars.
Where would anyone, including a commercial operation get enough used plastc bags from. Are they going to have someone running around the street picking up the occasional wind whipped bag. Sure there are billions of these bags in the world, but how are they going to be gathered into central locations. We can't even get people to recycle cans and bottles you think there would ever be enough of a supply of these bags anywhere... ever... Nope. I want renewable energy as much as anyone, but let's be practical please.
I remember reading a science fiction story several decades ago about a guy that came up with some sort of microbe that eats plastic and outputs drinkable alcohol. That was before buildings, cars, everything else was made of plastic though, so I guess it would be a little more dangerous if it was released into the "wild" these days.
Just trying to form a perspective The warming of the oceans and atmosphere & our human footprint. I think that there are natural pollutants that make our contributions look like a drop in the ocean. Volcanoes produce prodigious quantities of greenhouse gasses above and below the ocean surface. The deep ocean volcanic vents heat the water and then the air There are trillions of tons of methane ice at great depth and pressure that releases the greenhouse gas methane into the atmosphere in vast amounts continuously. Methane is 25 X more effective as a greenhouse gas than CO2. I agree that we shouldn't add to the problem, but even if we stopped adding our human footprint, I don't think that we will effect any substantial change.
I am sure that this should function with plastics other than those obtained from plastic bags. Surely ground up plastics from old toys, computer cases, plastic cups, etc. You would not need to go far to get 2 lbs of plastic in your garbage. If this was centralized and used to turn plastics from the landfill and used as a feedstock for petrochemicals I say go for it. If it prevents any young men and women from being killed in some godforsaken Middle East or third world country that hates us, sent over in order to secure our oil supplies so that lazy ass Americans can drive their Hummmers, I say go for it. Using oil twice, for plastics then gasoline, and keeping all that garbage plastic out of landfills and oceans is a win-win-win as I see it. By increasing the value of plastics as a hydrocarbon feedstock will keep it out of the waste stream.
Two pounds = a LOT of plastic bags. I'd be curious to see the home-sized unit and how it works. There were all kinds of pumps, etc. in the visible process shown here, using a lot of electricity. Yes, they can turn plastic bags into oil - at what - $25/lb?
@zackers: True, the vortex is itty-bitty bits of plastic that float just under the surface, but given some means of pumping the plastics out of the seawater, this technology might be able to make the mess go away. It might not be hugely profitable, but if used to power the ships that mine the plastics, it might be self-sustaining, and if it makes extra fuel, so much the better. Out of the box, it probably won't work, but with a bit of engineering, maybe it could.
The video in the linked CleanTechnica article mentions the cost to convert 1 kg of plastic into 1 litre of oil as being about $0.20 which makes me think they meant 1000 W*h rather than the 1000 watts stated in the article. 1000 W*h = 3.6 MJ 1 kg oil (#2 diesel) = 44.9 MJ 1 litre oil (fuel oil) = 38.5 MJ assuming that burning the fuel is only 85% efficient means you're using 3.6 MJ to get around 32 MJ to 38 MJ. So the conversion process itself takes up about 10% of the return. This is assuming there's no cost for collecting and shipping the plastic or oil and that no further refining (mentioned in video) needed for different uses.
It makes more sense to sell them to Waste Management companies or Recycling companies or even to cities and towns to reduce their landfills.
Just another one of those 'hey look what I can do and we'll charge you out the butt for saving the planet while we buy under 5 second 0-60 luxury cars that will burn more oil in one year than you'll recover in 10!' $10K?? Really? Trying being more realistic. A for effort. D- for implementation/affordability/return on investment for the average home user.
@Pcramp: Most of the plastic in these zones (they think there's a new one forming in the Atlantic) is broken up into very tiny pieces by sun and wave action. It's actually very hard to collect a lot of it, though if you run a straining sieve through the water you will see it. The idea that there are these huge chunks of plastic bags, bottles, etc. gathered together in "islands" that go on for miles is just a myth.
One kilowatt is not a measure of energy use. What time frame? We'd need to know how many KWH? I'd like to see the real FULL economics figured out. Rough figuring: 10 gallons a week for gasoline would need 2 tons a year. 500 gallons for heat, that's another 2 tons. So four tons a year. That is a LOT of plastic bags - 20 pounds per day!!! Where would I get that much??? And how much actual power would be used in the conversion process? Please investigate further and give us some REAL data not pie in the sky.
@Pcramp: The new environmental/energy organization The Clean Oceans Project, www.thecleanoceansproject.org , is raising funds to do just that attack on the plastics caught up in the NP subtropical gyre (Vortex) right now.
Actually, I wonder if this could lead to a method to mine the floating plastic island/continent (The North Pacific Vortex) in the Pacific Ocean.
Awesome! The plastic bag situation has gotten out of control. This is a great answer to that problem.
I have been waiting for one of those over thirty years. I even convinced our local landfill owner to place plastics in a separate area. Now he will be glad he followed my suggestion. I knew this invention would come about some day.
10K for a home unit? Hardly cost effective for bags that cost fractions of a penny. A few hundred bags for one litre of oil comes out at about a year's supply if I am profligate (I use cotton bags, 5 years old), so it will take me a lifetime or so to cover my costs. The trick is not to use, rather than come up with other ways of polluting and squeezing out every drop of carbon.
The carbon is pretty well locked up in those bags. Now, we are taking the same locked up material and making it available to put back into the atmosphere as CO2. I'd be more impressed if we could remove the CO2 from the atmosphere and make bags, or other plastic materials. (yes, I am aware that there are some trying to do this).
According to the video on YouTube www.youtube.com/watch?v=qGGabrorRS8 it isn't just bags, its plastics of all kinds. Watch the documentary BAG IT, if you can find it...apparently we are shipping freighter loads of containers full of compacted plastics to China. There is plenty of plastic! It's ubiquitous!
Zackers, it is not a myth and it has been there for a very long time and growing. Excuse me but do you also believe as well that global warming is a myth? Do you work for Fox News or a large oil conglomerate affiliate? See http://uniquelybasil.com/2012/04/02/the-great-plastic-island-in-the-pacific/ or the BBC article "Big rise in North Pacific plastic waste". Years ago, in the late '70's, I did some canary fleet salmon fishing out of Kodiac Alaska. We came across a plastic slick about the size of a football field, it was the most amazing thing I had ever seen. I believe wave action, storms and current do break these things up, but the mass that is well documented, located in the north Pacific in an area of current convergence, as the articles above disclose, is a permanent and growing human waste phenomena. This technology could very well help in the clean up of our earth and oceans.