Plastic waste management is a major challenge contributing to increasing CO2 emissions and health-related problems. The world generates over 200 million tons of plastic waste every year of which less than 10% goes for recycling. The rest is disposed of in the landfill, where it leaches harmful chemicals that spread to the groundwater and marine water. One of the sustainable ways is to convert plastics to oil through a method called pyrolysis. The oil can be used as a source of power and heat in internal combustion engines.
What are the key sustainability benefits?
Converting plastics to oil significantly reduces CO2 emissions and other chemical-related pollution. It is also a sustainable, domestic source of fuel thus minimizing dependency on fossil fuels and associated energy security threats.
How does this work?
The process involves pre-treatment of plastics and pyrolysis process which occurs at temperatures above 430 °C (800 °F) and under pressure to convert plastics into gas. It is then distilled to liquid form and further processed and refined to make the end product (bio-oil) suitable for use in internal combustion engines.
Where is innovation needed (which part of the process)?
Currently, the main challenge with the pyrolysis of plastic waste is the unavailability and inconsistent quality of feedstock, which requires the need for high-cost sorting processes. Further, poor market existence for end-use products and clarity on standards regarding product quality is a challenge.
Developing innovations in the pyrolysis process which can convert poor quality plastic feedstock is critical.
Repsol, Axens, and IFPEN develop a new process to boost chemical recycling
Pyrolysis is a promising pathway for the chemical recycling of plastic waste, which otherwise would end up incinerated or in landfills, and the production of food-grade, low-carbon footprint, recycled plastics.