Not all plastic can be recycled. To combat this problem, legislations are being pushed to get rid of nonrecyclable plastics and researchers are working on devising new technologies to help reduce waste. Now, a team from the University of Chester say they have found a way to turn any plastic into electricity and fuel.
The technology, developed with PowerHouse Energy, sees the conversion of plastic to electricity and hydrogen, with zero plastic remaining. The project is called W2T (Waste2Tricity) and uses a thermal conversion chamber to deal with plastic. The plastic is vaporized, releasing hydrogen as a synthetic natural gas (syngas), which is used to produce electricity. The technology creates a low amount of solid and liquid residue but no wasted gas, meaning it has much lower emissions compared to traditional incineration methods.
The prototype is being held at the University, but the company is planning to build a full-scale plant in Cheshire in the North-West of England. This will test whether upscaling of the facility will continue to be as efficient. Other approaches in the field of Advanced Conversion Technology have encountered scaling issues and difficulties with handling a lot of different materials getting vaporized.
The team thinks that no matter the type of plastic, the plant will do its job. And they hope they can go global. They are planning to roll-out plants in South-East Asia, with the intention to buy plastic waste at $50 per ton. This strategy could hopefully reduce the amount of plastic that ends up in landfills or the ocean.
“We are extremely excited to be hosting the prototype demonstrator here at the University of Chester. The technology converts all plastic waste into high quality, low carbon hydrogen syngas [synthetic gas] which can then be used to power gas engines,” Professor Joe Howe, from the University of Chester, said in a statement. “A by-product of this process is electricity, meaning waste plastic cannot only fuel cars but can also keep the lights on at home. Surely the world must wake up to this technology. It will make waste plastic valuable with it being able to power the world’s towns and cities and most importantly it can help clean up our oceans of waste plastic now."
It is important to remember that while personal use plastic can and often does end up in the ocean, one of the major culprits for plastic pollution is the fishing industry. Almost half of the infamous Great Pacific garbage patch is abandoned fishing gear. Initial efforts in the fight against plastic have focused on getting rid of consumer plastic such as straws, but large-scale efforts in tackling industrial waste are still limited. Approaches like the one proposed by W2T could give industries economic reasons, beyond the legal and the moral, to not pollute.