Plastic waste recycled into fuel!
Convert plastic waste to fuel? Initially, we might think this is fake news, yet the idea is indeed being developed by startups, in Norway and France in particular. Aviation is one sector that has been using this technology: over the last ten years, an increasing number of flight tests have been conducted using biofuels from recycled products.
And plastic becomes oil again…
At the current rate, our oceans will contain more plastic than fish in 2050, according to a study by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. To combat this scourge, Norwegian startup Quantafuel is working on a simple idea: since plastics are made from oil products, why not reverse the operation and turn plastics into fuel? “Our goal is to become a relevant oil company that doesn’t have four platforms in the North Sea,” proudly asserts its CEO, Kjetil Bohn.
A successful gamble for the startup boss, who is currently having his first plastic conversion plant constructed in Skive, Denmark. He has received strategic and financial support from Vitol Group, one of the world’s leading oil product traders, proving that this is serious stuff! A second plant is under construction in Norway. Quantafuel uses its own patented catalytic process, which enables it to produce 900 kg of fuel from one tonne of plastic waste heated to 450°C. About 70% is converted into diesel, 15% into petrol and less than 5% into crude oil. The company plans to increase its production tenfold over ten years by reprocessing 60 tonnes of waste/day to reach 30 to 40,000 barrels daily.
Promoting plastic recycling in emerging markets
In France, Christofer Costes, a 35-year-old self-taught researcher, is working on a related concept, but on a different scale. Chrysalis, his machine, designed for emerging markets, is a simple, robust and easy-to-repair container that turns plastic waste into fuel. The final prototype will produce between 30 and 50 litres of fuel with 30 to 50 kg of plastic in about 1hr and 15min. The process, an improved pyrolysis of plastics, enables plastic to be heated to 450 degrees in a closed reactor. In the absence of oxygen, instead of burning, the plastic breaks down little by little until it becomes liquid and gaseous.
In the end, a mix is obtained, composed of 60% diesel, 20% petrol, 10% gas and carbon residues. The project is supported by the NGO Earthwake, with educational and sustainable development objectives. “The idea is to facilitate the collection of waste before it ends up in the oceans, using a portable piece of equipment that fits in a container and that leads to savings,” explained French actor Samuel le Bihan, a fervent ecologist and co-founder of Earthwake, during a press presentation.
Aviation sector eager to reduce portion of kerosene used
Many test flights and commercial flights using 30 to 50% biofuels have already been conducted successfully. Some biofuels are made from converted vegetable oils (carinata, camelina, etc.) or used vegetable oil. This was the subject of European project ITAKA, involving approximately one hundred long- and medium-haul flights with Airbus as its main partner. For its part, ATR carried out an experiment on a short-haul flight in 2017 in partnership with Swedish company BRA. The aircraft flew from Stockholm to the town of Umeå, using a mixture composed of 45% recycled cooking oil… and nothing got fried!
In general, the tests conducted, including those on commercial flights, show that biokerosenes do not raise any particular technical, safety or usage issues. However, the absence of a legal minimum incorporation requirement, as is the case for land-based biofuels, is hindering their development. The other obstacle is economic, with production costs remaining substantially higher than those of fossil kerosene, without any tax incentives. The ball is therefore in the court of the legislators!
Replacing a portion of fossil kerosene with biofuels can reduce GHG emissions by 50 to 90% compared to conventional kerosene.
Source : IFPEN