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Vol. 11 No. 3 - July 2005

Plastics Waste as a Resource for Fuel

Plastics have become an integral part and parcel of our lives due to its economic value, easy availability, easy processability, light-weight, durability and energy efficiency, besides other benefits.

Since plastics are re-usable and recyclable, there should not have been any problem of disposal of the plastics waste, however due to our poor littering habits and inadequate waste management system/infrastructure, plastics waste management, disposal continues to be a major problem for the civic authorities, especially in the urban areas.

Though various steps have already been either taken or initiated by the Government and the legal/civic authorities to reduce the problem of this waste management, an innovative invention by Prof. Alka Umesh Zadgaonkar of the Department of Applied Chemistry, G.H. Raisoni College of Engineering, Nagpur, Maharashtra, has created a hope and scope to tackle this problem more easily and more environmentally-friendly manner.

She has invented a catalyst system, which converts polymeric materials into liquid, solid and gaseous fuels.

The Process

Under controlled reaction conditions, plastics materials undergo random de-polymerization and is converted into three products:

a) Solid Fuel – Coke

b) Liquid Fuel – Combination of Gasoline, Kerosene, Diesel and Lube Oil

c) Gaseous Fuel – LPG range gas

The process consists of two steps:

i) Random de-polymerization

   - Loading of waste plastics into the reactor along with the Catalyst system.

   - Random de-polymerization of the waste plastics.

ii) Fractional Distillation

   - Separation of various liquid fuels by virtue of the difference in their boiling points.

One important factor of the quality of the liquid fuel is that the sulphur content is less than 0.002 ppm – which is much lower than the level found in regular fuel.

Principles Involved

All plastics are polymers mostly containing carbon and hydrogen and few other elements like chlorine, nitrogen, etc. Polymers are made up of small molecules, called monomers, which combine together and form large molecules, called polymers.

When this long chain of polymers break at certain points, or when lower molecular weight fractions are formed, this is termed as degradation of polymers. This is reverse of polymerization or de-polymerization.

If such breaking of long polymeric chain or scission of bonds occur randomly, it is called ‘Random depolymerization’. Here the polymer degrades to lower molecular fragments.

In the process of conversion of waste plastics into fuels, random depolymerization is carried out in a specially designed reactor in the absence of oxygen and in the presence of coal and certain catalytic additives. The maximum reaction temperature is 350oC. There is total conversion of waste plastics into value-added fuel products.

Unique features of the process and product obtained are:

  • All types of Plastics Waste including CD’s and Floppies having metal inserts, laminated plastics – can be used in the process without any cleaning operation. Inputs should be dry.

  • Bio-medical plastics waste can be used.

  • About 1 litre of Fuel is produced from 1 kg of Plastics Waste. Bye-products are Coke and LPG Gaseous Fuel.

  • Any possible dioxin formation is ruled out during the reaction involving PPVC waste, due to the fact that the reaction is carried out in absence of oxygen, a prime requirement for dioxin formation.

  • This is a unique process in which 100% waste is converted into 100% value-added products.

  • The process does not create any pollution.

Though the fuel so produced from the plastics waste could be used for running a four-stroke/100 cc motorcycle at a higher mileage rate, the inventor agrees that separation of petrol from the liquid fuel could be a complex generation. Nevertheless the product is good enough for use as an alternative clean fuel in boilers and other heating systems.

It is, however, not the first time that fuel has been produced out of plastics waste. A Japanese company, M/s. Ozmotec, is already manufacturing fuel out of plastics waste at an industrial plant in Japan employing the Pyrolysis process. However, Prof. Zadgaonkar’s process is a continuous one and hence is cheaper, whereas the Japanese technology is a batch process and is comparatively costlier.

A live demonstration of the production of Liquid Fuel was made in the presence of ICPE led team in the laboratory. Three kgs of plastics scrap was used to produce about 2 litres of Liquid Fuel in about 3 hrs. The reaction was terminated after the trial demo. The fuel obtained was used in smooth running of a motorcycle, which was experienced by the visiting members. However, the inventor does not wish to claim the product as a substitute for Petrol or Diesel at this stage. The present use would be as a fuel for running boilers and other heating purposes.

A report from the Team comprising Mr. T.K. Bandopadhyay of ICPE and Dr. Shashikant Sharma of IPCL’s R&D Department, who were deputed by ICPE management to visit Nagpur.
Text of the report is based on the information provided by the inventor
Eco Echoes, Mumbai)

This article has been reproduced from the archives of EnviroNews - Newsletter of ISEB India.

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