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The Art of Recycling: Converting Plastic to Oil

By Energy Digital | Mon, 30 April 2012 21:46 | 10

The days of dumping trash into overcrowded landfills may be over. Just as you would not dump gold, diamonds, or hundred dollar bills into garbage bins, you soon will hesitate to throw out your plastic water bottle, as the once typical trash is taking on a whole new value. New developments in technology seem to have done the unfathomable—and scientists have now found a means to turn plastic pollution into oil.

Scientifically referred to as “Thermal Depolymerization” the depolymerization process reduces complex organic materials—usually biomass plastic—into light crude oil. Scientists originally based this process of the geological processes they believed produced fossil fuels. Utilizing pressure and heat, the process breaks down the long chain polymers of hydrogen, oxygen and carbon, decomposing them into short-chain petroleum hydrocarbons.

Ultimately, the process runs off the principle that plastic was once oil, and should be easily converted back to oil, and utilized as fuel instead of material. Amazingly, plastic holds a higher energy value than just about any other type of waste.

The Japanese company Blest created one of the first machines to convert plastic into oil, and they are introducing their discovery to the planet by educating children in impoverished nations to utilize the technology in their villages.

The easy to use machine uses a temperature-controlled electric heater which converts the plastic into gas without burning CO2. This is a revolutionary technology for impoverished countries, which can use the oil to fuel their stoves, boilers, generators and even as fuel for their cars.

There does not seem to be a downside to this technology, as the invention runs off of twenty cents worth of electricity, with little environmental ramifications. While the machine is currently limited to processing polyethylene, polystyrene, and polypropylene, it holds the promise of an eco-friendly source of oil, and a dramatic cut to our landfill waste.

In a world where the price of oil is always going up, the gross layer of smog is always thickening, and the garbage dumps are perpetually growing larger trash mountains, it is this type of invention which will put a dent in our over consumption, by consuming our own bi-products as non-hazardous fuel. 

By Heather Rushworth of Energy Digital

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  • rumblejuhngle on September 22 2013 said:
    One might as well burn the plastic waste outright and recover the heat, rather than spending money on sorting the waste, applying heat to get pyrolysis, filtering and modifying the oil, transporting this oil and ultimately burning the oil! So where's the benefit, fool's gold I'd say.
  • Tom on September 05 2013 said:
    I copied this from an online article from the NYT:

    Conventional crude sells for $85 to $95 a barrel; other company executives have suggested in recent months that the system could produce crude for around $52 a barrel and even less over time. I guess we’ll see.
  • Darren K House on April 21 2013 said:
    How an where can I buy one of these machines to convert plastic into Oil
  • Sandy Lake Hermit on March 18 2013 said:
    The idea of converting a permanent waste product that pollutes our planet to a reusable energy source is a very good and sound one. I endorse it whole heartedly.
    Hopefully the economics works out that the output is far greater than the input making it a viable/profitable venture.
  • Robert on January 25 2013 said:
    The journalist/ writer should make things a bit more clear what 20 cents of electricity will actually produce. If it's 20 Cents per liter of oil which can be used for heating oil well that's about a fifth of what it costs to buy a liter of heating oil here in Canada. Which is a big savings. If the octane rating is equal. My oil tank holds 400 gallons of oil and will do me several months that's 1,600 liters of oil. For the work it would take to convert tons of plastic into 1,600 liters of oil one wonders if it would be feasible? Also some plastics contain chlorine P.V.C. for instance so when you heat that plastic up chlorine gas would be a by product ,which is a very lethal gas Also one would have to remove paper labels because instead of paper melting it could catch fire. I don't mean to be critical but for the 200,000.00 dollar price tag it costs for one of these machines. It might work as a big scale operation if you could get tons and tons of plastic for free. The other good thing is it makes use of many types of plastic they don't recycle right now plus it uses styrofoam plastic that is clogging up the landfills
  • djconklin on August 25 2012 said:
    >But burning all of it is hardly a sane answer.

    That's why they aren't burning it. They heat it just enough so that it breaks down: "Utilizing pressure and heat, the process breaks down the long chain polymers of hydrogen, oxygen and carbon, decomposing them into short-chain petroleum hydrocarbons."
  • John Sothcott on May 13 2012 said:
    This process can use any carbon based material as well as hydrocarbons. It is about time it was used commercially.
  • George Pepper on May 08 2012 said:
    It's amazing what scientists are discovering! Re-using and recycling plastic is a great idea - anything to prevent our planet becoming a giant landfill.

    Recycled plastics are even being used in Eurocell building plastics, with a large proportion of the materials made from recycled PVC.

    George
  • Brad on May 07 2012 said:
    mich: it can probably be used for anything, potentially, including re-manufactured into more plastic
  • mich.bushi on May 02 2012 said:
    must be one of the stupidest ideas EVER. Only demonstrates how perverse our reliance of burning oil is - to get something that can be used & reused many times, has tons of practical applications (plastic), and turn it into oil to simply BURN it, so it is now gone forever - and still think it is a good thing - well, I do not subscribe to that point of view. It is screaming "WASTE!!!!!" to me.

    Of course, there's the underlying issue of too much plastics being used as single-use stuff, and ending up in the landfills. But burning all of it is hardly a sane answer.

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