Business unusual: Making oil from plastic
Published: Sep 24, 2013
If you have not seen it yet, the Youtube video of Akinori Ito of Japan and his tabletop machine that converts some types of plastic to oil is quite inspiring.
It could just be the disruptive innovation that puts the power to generate fuel into the hands of the average person, an exciting and halting prospect.
His machine is not the first to recycle plastic, and it is not the only one out there that does so by pyrolysis, a heating process that does not use oxygen, thus eliminating the formation of greenhouse gases as a byproduct of the process.
The company, Agilyx, out of Oregon that uses similar processes, has sold 250,000 gallons of crude oil since its inception, effectively recovering 2 million pounds of plastic.
They boast about their ability to convert 10 tons of plastic into 60 barrels or 2400 gallons of crude.
Envion Oil, another U.S. company, claims that its Envion Oil Generator (EOG) converts all types of plastic into high quality light medium oil at a cost of less than $10 per barrel and effectively converts one ton of plastic into 42 barrels.
What sets Ito’s machine apart is its size.
Indeed, unlike some of the larger machines out there, it is limited in that it only converts number two to four plastics. That covers plastics used for milk, water or juice bottles, grocery bags, bread bags and many others.
The product of the process is a crude gas that can be used to fuel generators or stoves and it can of course also be refined to make oil or gas.
Apparently one kilogram (2.2 pounds) of plastic generates one liter (0.2 gallons) of crude oil, using one kWh of energy to do so. Since we pay about 40 cents for each kWh, it means you would use $2 worth of electricity to make one gallon of crude oil.
The smallest machine is currently available and it retails for about $9,500.
Hopefully, individual residential consumers are not generating enough plastic waste to make this practical, but the device could certainly be shared by small remote communities as a way to divert plastic waste from landfills and the fuel used to assist in powering a shared generator or for cooking appliances.
It might even be worthwhile for use by large hotel properties or groups of neighboring smaller hotels that tend to generate a fair amount of waste.
Indeed there is an opportunity here for an enterprising business person to collect the plastic waste and set up for production of crude oil to be sold off to a refinery.
Giant steps made by inventors like Ito show what can happen when we no longer accept business as usual.
• We would like to hear how this article has helped you. Send questions or comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. Sonia Brown is principal of Graphite Engineering Ltd. and is a registered professional engineer.
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