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Brian Westenhaus

Brian Westenhaus

Brian is the editor of the popular energy technology site New Energy and Fuel. The site’s mission is to inform, stimulate, amuse and abuse the…

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Advanced Plastic Recycling Could Cut Need For Hydrocarbons Significantly

  • City College of New York Grove School of Engineering: advanced plastic recycling could save massive amounts of energy.
  • Recycling could also significantly cut emissions from plastic-making.
  • Hard-to-recycle plastics can be made into products with a smaller carbon footprint than those made from new resources.

City College of New York Grove School of Engineering released a new report which examined advanced plastic recycling. The report concluded that advanced recycling helps avoid climate impacts, reduces demand for energy resources, and offers key tools for expanding the circular economy.

The report is titled “Quantitative Comparison of LCAs on the Current State of Advanced Recycling Technologies.”

The report was authored by Dr. Marco J. Castaldi, professor of chemical engineering and director of CCNY’s Earth Engineering Center (EEC), and EEC research associate Lauren Creadore. The report is well worth your time, the Executive Summary alone is quite informative.

Combined images from the report showing the highlights of sections in the report. Image Credit: City College of New York Grove School of Engineering. The best views are in the report seen as a pdf file.

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The authors examined 13 recently completed life cycle assessments (LCAs) and found that advanced recycling can transform hard-to-recycle plastics into products with a smaller carbon footprint than those made from new resources.

The processes also reduce energy use and greenhouse gas emissions compared to conventional end of life methods, such as landfilling and waste-to-energy. Use of advanced recycling contributed to circularity for plastics in all 13 LCAs.

Specifically, the report found that advanced recycling technologies can:

  • Produce plastic and chemical products with a reduced global warming potential compared to products made from virgin resources.
  • Reduce the need for fossil energy resources by up to 97% compared to landfilling.
  • Reduce CO2 equivalent emissions by more than 100% compared to typical end-of-life processes when accounting for displaced demand for chemical products and energy.

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Castaldi said, “As advanced recycling becomes increasingly efficient, it is poised to play a major role in achieving global sustainability goals. It can transform hard-to-recycle plastics into a multitude of high-value feedstocks, reducing the need for fossil resources and limiting the environmental impact of waste management. Equally important, the data suggest that our transition to a more circular economy will dramatically improve climate outcomes.”

Bob Hall at the American Society of Mechanical Engineers’ Research Committee on Energy, Environment, and Waste noted, “There’s been significant investment and interest from companies and policymakers in advanced recycling. Scientific studies like this one from CCNY, coupled with engineering ingenuity can help inform and responsibly move us towards a more sustainable and circular future. As these technologies mature, it is imperative to conduct additional studies on advanced recycling that adhere to international LCA standards.”

Annette Scotto, ASME Chair of the Material and Energy Recovery Division commented, “ASME suggests that technologies that have current operating performance data and have a facility to visit should be given priority for future analyses.”

***

Your humble writer might add that this kind of work that incorporates so many earlier works strongly makes the case for responsible folks to get on board with keeping the planet clean and reducing our energy and fuel demands.

The landfill method is really only a “Buy Time” answer to a problem of laziness. Someday perhaps folks will automatically dispose of things responsibly. One hopes.

By Brian Westenhaus via New Energy and Fuel 

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Leave a comment
  • Ian St. John on October 24 2022 said:
    This is a good point. Recycling plastics would not only reduce pollution but save massive amounts of energy and oil. But the problem still lies in the technology. To make it work, you really need the consumer to put ALL plastics into one bin that is then 'sorted' chemically and reduced to 'monomers'. The reason for no sorting (size or type) is to make high levels of recycling possible. The reason for the need to break it down to monomers is to allow 'pure products' to be produced without the problem of contamination that makes recycling of solid plastics so labor intensive and flawed. A bit of mayonnaise on a piece of plastic can reject a whole pallet. Converted to the original monomers, which can be fractionally separated and purified before repolymerization allows for a recycled plastics as good as the original.

    That may require banning some plastics and developing others to take their places.

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