Tuesday, July 31st, 2012

Student Develops Process for Turning Plastic Waste into Biofuel

At the age of 16, an Egyptian student developed a method for generating biofuel feedstock from waste plastic, including identification of the affordable catalyst critical to a process that could produce biofuel worth $78 million per year in her country alone.

Egyptian high school student Azza Abdel Hamid Faiad has developed a catalytic process to convert waste plastics into biofuel feedstocks.

Azza Abdel Hamid Faiad, a student at the Zahran Language School in Alexandria, is currently working through the Egyptian Patent Office to obtain a patent for the process, which uses calcium bentonite as a catalyst to break down waste plastic into gases including methane, propane, and ethane. These then can be converted into ethanol to be used as biofuel.

Recycling plastics by breaking them down using high temperatures is not new, but Faiad says her type of catalyst allows the process to take place without emitting toxic gas, assuming safety measures used for similar processes.

Faiad presented her process as a paper at the annual European Union Contest for Young Scientists in September 2011 in Helsinki, Finland. It won the European Fusion Development Agreement Award presented by the EFDA organization based in Culham, UK.

As part of her prize, she spent a week earlier this month at EFDA’s UK facility, accompanied by one of her scientific mentors, Nourwanda Sorour, a student at Alexandria University. Ms. Faiad now is 17 years old and still a high school student. She was 16 when she won the prize for her project: Production of

Hydrocarbon Fuel by Catalytic Cracking of High Density Polyethylene Wastes.

Her efforts are aimed at meeting real needs. Egypt’s plastics consumption is estimated at about a million metric tons per year, and Sorour says plastic waste in Egypt, as in most developing countries, is a real problem. “This project,” she says, “is simply converting the problem into a solution.”

Faiad points out that the technology provides an economically efficient method for production of hydrocarbon fuel that could result in 40,000 tons per year of cracked naphtha and 138,000 tons of hydrocarbon gasses, equivalent to $78 million in biofuel.

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