Wednesday, August 24th, 2011

Turning Plastics into Fuel in Northeast Ohio

The whole concept of “waste-to-energy” is not new to the plastics industry. Plastics are derived from petroleum or natural gas giving them a stored energy value higher than any other material commonly found in the waste stream. As noted in a previous blog:

“…plastics have a high calorific value, equivalent to or higher than that of coal, so they can provide a very useful source of energy after serving their useful life as a plastics product. Plastics left in municipal waste incinerators (energy-from-waste plants) help generate useful power and heat, while using separated fractions such as paper/plastic mixtures as alternative fuels in power stations offer the prospect of replacing coal and reducing the emission of greenhouse gases.”

We know plastics can be used to produce energy, but what about the idea of turning plastics into fuel? A recent article in the Plain Dealer (Cleveland, OH) focuses on two small Northeast Ohio companies – PolyFlow LLC and Vadxx Energy – that are working to make oil and motor fuel from used polymer and rubber-based consumer products. Both companies are active members of a “cluster” of companies put together by NorTech, a Cleveland nonprofit focused on developing the region’s high-tech economy.

As an example, Polyflow cracks the mixed plastic and rubber waste into aromatics, the building blocks of polymer and rubber manufacturing, using a patented pyrolysis process. Aromatics are traditionally derived through the importation and refining of crude oil. Some of the benefits of this technology include the diversion of plastic and rubber waste from landfills, the creation of green collar jobs and a reduction of our country’s dependence on foreign oil.

Vadxx Energy has a process called “thermal depolymerization” that the company says can break down any plastic, using a proprietary technology that heats the shredded material in an air-tight crucible. The system turns out an oil that, according to the company, is similar to the very best U.S. oil.

Automobiles being powered by old plastic bottles or tires?  This idea could be a reality based on the work of companies like PolyFlow and Vadxx Energy. The idea of recovering fuel from plastic is alternatives to tamoxifen one that should continue to be explored. As the nation seeks to increase its energy security and looks to sources of new and alternative energy, energy recovery through plastics should be part of the mix.

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