Recycling plastic into fuel
Plastic is a brilliant product. Our lives have become easy because of it. But when it becomes waste is when the problem begins. Plastic will remain on this earth for at least 450 to even 1000 years before it degrades. Actually, no one yet knows the actual decomposition rate as plastic was discovered only 125 years ago, and no one has seen it degraded.
In the last 30 years or so, a staggering 8000 billion MT of plastic have become waste. And out of that nearly 80% is in our landfills. So imagine nearly every piece of plastic ever made still exists today!
We do not spend two seconds on the effect plastic has on our environment after we throw it into the garbage.
It was in 2009 when I visited a wildlife sanctuary with my co-founder Shirish Phadtare. that we learnt that some deer had died there due to eating plastic. Naturally we were appalled by this news. That was the turning point in our life.
We came back home and started experimenting. The first place was in the kitchen. We heated plastic in a pan but it got stuck. Then we had this crazy idea to put it in a pressure cooker, and that's what we actually did. Due to the pressure built up, we blew up a couple of cookers.
We continued with our experimenting, and after many trials we started to see the results. The gas that came out had a smell and it was also inflammable. Then we got some oil-like substance as a film on top of the water. After testing the gas and oil, we realised we were on to recovering usable fuel from waste plastic.
After the kitchen experiments, we built our first machine where we manage to turn the waste plastic to fuel.
The process is simple. The machine effectively reverses the plastic production process - the ‘thermo-catalytic depolymerization’ process cracks the long chains of polymers to produce useable fuel.
The exact recovery ratio and characteristics of the fuel varies depending on the types of plastic received.
By and large, a tonne of mixed plastic produces approximately
· 600 to 650 litres of fuel
· 20 to 25% synthetic gas, and
· 5 to 10% moisture
· 5 to 10% residual char can be used as road filler with bitumen
The produced fuel can be used directly for the burning in kerosene stoves, boilers, furnaces, certain types of gensets, etc. The synthetic gas produced is compressed and reused as fuel in the conversion process.
The waste plastic-to-fuel process produces very low emissions, due to the capture of almost all of the output, both liquids and gases inside the system.
While all this development was happening, we started to create awareness of segregation at source in terms of waste plastic. We soon realized that simple talk without action does not bring about any change. That is how the collection began. At first I would go out with my driver to collect waste plastic in my car. Soon news of our process and collection of plastic at source spread across the city by word of mouth. Now our NGO Keshav Sita Memorial Foundation (Trust registered in 2003) collects waste plastic from various cities in huge amounts.
Plastic is not the problem, it is us. Instead of treating it like a resource we treat it like waste.
I firmly believe that we can change our habits to help the environment.
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