The widespread use shows that plastic is a very useful material. The problem with plastic arises when it is disposed of. Plastic has a very slow decomposition rate, which means that it can take up a lot of space in landfills and, when not properly thrown away, often ends up in the water where it is gradually broken down into small particles that can be ingested by marine wildlife.According to a study that appeared in Science in 2015, only a very small portion of plastic is recycled. Instead, as much as 12.7 million metric tons of plastic waste finds its way into the ocean every year.
James Holm and Swaminathan Ramesh hope to rectify this problem with the device they are developing, which is a mobile reactor that could transform plastic into diesel fuel. The idea of converting plastic into fuel isn’t a new one. The typical method for converting plastics into fuel is pyrolysis, which involves breaking down the long hydrocarbon chains in plastic at moderately high temperatures in the absence of oxygen, followed by several refining steps. The method can be energy-intensive, expensive, and time-consuming.
Ramesh set out to change the game and developed a catalyst that, when deposited on a porous support material and coupled with a controlled pyrolysis reaction, yields diesel fuels directly without further refining. It is also cost-effective on a small scale, runs at lower temperatures, and is mobile. The device weighs around 500 pounds and the whole system can fit in a 20-foot shipping container or on the back of a flat-bed truck.
The machine can convert about 10 pounds of plastic into one gallon of diesel the machine can be configured to convert from 200 to 10,000 or more pounds of plastic per 10-hour day, which means it can create between 20 and 1,000 gallons of diesel a day.