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Recycle and refine plastic along with petrol

Recycle plastic waste in every oil refinery worldwide and give it a final destination

Photo of Clara Salina

Written by

Plastic has become essential material for modern life as our daily experience indicates us.

The global plastic production is estimated today in around 300 million metric tons a year, figure that is increasing at a rate of 4% annually.
It is vital to put it in a loop without any possibility to escape. PET1 is a very profitable material but the other PETs are not so easy to recicle. We must give value and reasons to be recycled to any plastic produced.

In 2010, the invention of the plastic-into-oil machine showed clearly that re-conversion is possible.

Why not carrying out the plastic-in-oil process along with the petroleum in the already existing refinery plants? The enormous quantities of plastic waste circulating would justify the inversion.

What I'm proposing is putting engineers to work, exploring the possibility to add the necessary technologies to the standard and widespread refineries, with the final purpose to include plastic waste as a raw material for the normal production of gasoline and petroleum derivates.

I want you to consider this video of United Nation University showing Akinori Ito describing his invention: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8CD_FZssFT4 

Please take a look also to these two videos: as it is clearly stated in this video at at 0:49” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GYRwWyG3Qqw

“Petrol is superheated” like plastic when it is reconverted into oil https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cw6V_SXuLxg

Making gasoline from petroleum and from plastic doesn't look so different in their processes.

I'm sure engineers will be able to find a proper technological solution.

Even adopting my Barcode v/s Plastic Waste proposal as a law (BCvsPW can lead to a drastic single use plastic reduction), at a country level quantities would be significant. Further more, even a non-oil country could use plastic instead of buying petroleum, making it disappear with a valuable economic return.

So here are the two new topics:

  • Gases: so far, the recycling process for plastic is done through melting the material and this process produces gases which are generally captured by filters. So far, there is no recycling process for plastic which does not include melting the material and, therefore, gases are in general captured by filters. The same happens processing petroleum.
  • Filters: with free raw material, more economic resources can be dedicated to filters, keeping emissions under further control.


Since 2010, some countries –China on top- have developed huge plastic in oil plants exporting them wherever requested.

BUT, this creates an alternative and very expensive channel for plastic while petroleum refining process is pretty much the same and it already exists.

Put refineries in condition to process and recycle also plastic waste, could give to this process an affordable cost, while offering a way to get rid of plastic waste all together.

Furthermore, even if developed countries are going to put aside the fossil industry soon, it is more likely that third word will take more time in reaching this goal achievement.
Why should we waste so much plastic that can be used instead of oil?

While, hopefully, plastic made with oil would progressively disappear, along with the growth of alternative energies, this idea definitively puts plastic in the loop.

Idea Title

Put definitively plastic in the loop. It was born in a refinery and there it has to go back.

Where are you / your team located?

In Chile

Which use cases does your Idea apply to?

To all Use Cases

In what geographical context or area does your Idea plan to operate / solve?

Worldwide

How do you envision scaling up your Idea?

As the Barcode v/s Plastic Waste idea, I can't do more than promoting it for discussion. I'm going to propose it to any expert, stakeholder, politician I know.

Please describe how becoming a Top Idea and working with the Think Beyond Plastics Accelerator Program will help to accelerate your solution.

This is only an early idea. I have already had a conversation with an engineer who told me that, theoretically, it would be possible. I'm sure that including it in the Accelerator Program will give it a chance to be spread faster and, possibly, adopted internationally.

Please describe from where your Idea emerged

Observation and common sense. I can't understand why plastic in oil machines have had so little implementation

Tell us about your work experience

I'm a visual artist and I have been working for years in Communication areas. I'm using my experience in Communication field.

Please describe your legal and organizational structure

I have been spreading Barcode v/s Plastic Waste since almost 4 years now, but it is not my job, let's say I'm an environmental activist

25 comments

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Spam
Photo of Jocelyn Doucet
Team

Adding a distillation unit is not enough to do what you propose. You need a cracking unit that breaks down the plastics into chemicals and then only you can distillate those chemicals and then use them back in the loop.

This is what we do at Pyrowave where we break down the polymer chains locally.

Talking with all the petrochemical companies, i can assure you they will not want to do this at their plant for two reasons 1) the cost of getting the material at their plant kills the economics and 2) their core business is manufacturing polymers, not doing the reverse operation. So from a business perspective, you will not be able to get market traction if you propose to sell or license a technology that forces them to source feedstocks and transport it at a cost, and also if you force them to do something out of their core business.

Our approach solves those problems because we do local cracking of the polymer which reduces transportation AND we do not ask the industry to change by only selling them the chemicals AFTER they had been distillated and refined in such a way that they can take it as is and use them.

But yes, the idea of closing the loop is absolutely the way to go by adding cracking and distillation, but your approach is missing a few technical steps and does not reflect the reality of expectations from the industry.

Hope this helps!

Spam
Photo of Clara Salina
Team

Thanks a lot Jocelyn, my contribution comes from common sense, as I wrote too.
I'm not selling or licensing any idea, I'm simply proposing to experts to discuss about it.
Why do we need to build new plants for plastic?
Let's add to the existing ones what is missing to put plastic chemical derivates into the loop. So, following what you are suggesting I'll add the cracking unit to my script.

Of course, I'm perfectly aware that industry won't look positively what I propose. Indeed I believe in strictly laws. I don't think we can save out oceans only with industry good will. We don't have enough time left.
My other proposal Barcode v/s Plastic Waste is going in the same direction.
We need force of law, awareness and education are not enough.

Plastic waste is spread everywhere on the planet, many nations don't have any economical power to install plastic into oil plants or machines, but they probably have refineries on their territories. Therefore, I'm suggesting to use them and transform plastic in oil with a, probably, more affordable cost.

Spam
Photo of Brian Bauer
Team

Jocelyn Doucet Thank you for your astute advise on the technical challenges related to this idea. I just wanted to provide a few comments that might partially mitigate the economic challenges that you address. Chile has a fairly energy intensive economy and thus a significant per capita demand for hydrocarbon resources. And Chile has virtually no indigenous hydrocarbon resources-it is heavily reliant on expensive and sometimes dubious foreign energy imports. But, Chile also has some of the world's best DNI making it one of the world's best places to harvest low cost, highly reliable solar energy. Recently there has been a massive increase in large scale solar projects in Chile.

To me (not an expert in this area), it sounds like the breaking down of polymer chains is a fairly energy intensive process. That said, could solar energy be a cost effective energy source to break down the polymers? Also, in the developed world it can be very expensive to collect, sort and transport plastics. But in developing economies (outside of Chile but in the region) informal recycling networks can collect massive volumes of plastic for low costs.

Considering all the unique factors that I address for Chile, do you think these might meaningfully make Clara's idea more economically viable (in the context of Chile)? Not at all challenging your expertise (I am not an expert in this area) but curious to hear your thoughts. Cheers, Brian

Spam
Photo of JP De Mussy
Team

Brian Bauer I found your comment very relevant and of course worth the reflection. Dreaming small or dreaming big takes the same energy so why not dream big. It makes sense to look deep into how Solar Energy can actually make things possible in certain places of the world and Chile is certainly one such place where Solar is King.
Clara Salina keep pushing for your clever common sense. Cheers. JP

Spam
Photo of Jocelyn Doucet
Team

I love common sense and your idea makes certainly alot of sense! Changing regulation is essential because it currently maintains and supports the status quo. I am totally with you there.

Spam
Photo of Jocelyn Doucet
Team

Thanks,

My point was that although i get the concept, it's just not how it works, you can't just distillate the plastics. Distillation is a unit operation that separates compounds based on their difference in boiling points and vapor pressures. If you want to vaporize the polymers to separate them, you would have to heat them up to a temperature so they become vaporized and that would either burn them (if presence of oxygen) or pyrolyze them (in absence of oxygen). We tried this in the lab and it just cracks the polymers when you heat them too high in temperature.

The real approach to this is to first pyrolyze or crack the polymers and then distillate the residue product. We are mainly saying the same thing, but from a practical chemical engineering way, there are in fact two steps in what she is proposing: a cracking and a distillation.

Regarding the energy, you are absolutely right when you say that the process of breaking down polymer chains requires energy. I don't know what "intensive" means but it is mainly a thermodynamic property. The breakdown energy (or depolymerization enthalpy) that we measure in our process is around 0.4-0.7 kWh/kg of material, which would be seen as relatively light. The reaction itself is what we call "endothermic", meaning that the total energy value of the products are higher than the internal energy of the polymers before being broke down. Therefore there must be some energy added to the system so it can happen.

What most people do usually is that they burn fuel to provide that energy through the form of "heat" and therefore additional emissions are released as a result of burning this fuel to recover product. This is what you see mostly in "catalytic crackers" or fluidized bed gasifications/pyrolysis process. The only sustainable way to my opinion to do this is to rely on alternative sources of energy like solar, windmill or other renewable forms of energy.

This is really similar to what the Nature does by relying on solar energy (an almost say infinite source of energy) to power up photosynthesis which takes carbon dioxide and convert it into structured products like sugars or other oligomers. There is an energy cost to be ressource efficient, this is what we learn from Nature and there is no way out, it's thermodynamics! But what we also learn from this is that in order to be "winning" at this game without choking with emissions is that we need energy sources that are not releasing additional emissions.

The solution I am proposing with Pyrowave, (sorry for the self publicity here) is following that line of thought whereby we use electrical energy to power up a microwave unit and do the cracking conversion of polymer into monomers. In that way, you can take decarbonated source of energy and take polymers in end of life to decompose them into building blocks (monomers) to be used again in other structures. Similarly, any technology that would be able to close the loop by relying on renewable sources of energy would fall under the same category and this is what we need to focus on. Therefore using solar energy in Chile would be extraordinary to power up this technology.

Spam
Photo of Clara Salina
Team

Thanks a lot JP. I'm very happy to read I could establish the interesting conversation.
Cheers, Clara

Spam
Photo of Brian Bauer
Team

Jocelyn Doucet Thanks a lot for all of your astute technical analysis and input.

I just read of a major policy change that will likely have huge impacts on plastic recycling. China has formally announced it wants to stop taking in recycled plastics from developed nations. My guess is this will have major impacts on how we process plastic. Perhaps it will create policy tailwinds to process plastic waste on a more local level, rather than sending it to China. Ultimately, this could increase feedstock and develop economies of scale for an idea like we are discussing, turning plastic into fuel.

I am curious about how well the plastic has to be sorted to turn it into fuel? Do you work with sorted plastic all of the same polymer or can you process unsorted plastic types into fuels. I work with a company that recycles plastics in developing nations and we focus on the most valuable types of plastics. It would be amazing if all types of plastic could be monetized so they do not escape the economy and punish the environment. So really curious to hear your view on how well the plastic has to be sorted to turn it into fuel. Cheers, Brian

Spam
Photo of Brian Bauer
Team

Hi Jocelyn, Sorry, I just read over your proposal and it answered most of the questions I asked above. Amazing work you are doing. I wish you the best of luck in making it come to life on a large scale.

Here is that article I was referring to about China stoping plastic imports. From what I understand about your business model this could create policies that favour your idea.
http://www.triplepundit.com/2017/07/china-will-no-longer-accept-worlds-garbage/

Spam
Photo of Jose Luis
Team

Hello Jocelyn,

I visited your website. Thank you very much for the work you are doing to reconstitute mixed plastic waste into their building blocks to make virgin-like plastics.

The idea that Clara is proposing to have oil refineries recycle plastic waste is, in my view, to Pyrowave's advantage.

By having commingled plastic waste shipped to oil refineries, Pyrowave will help solve the problem of costs to haul, store, sort and process them.

Pyrowave can place small, modular units directly onsite at recycling facilities and at producers of plastic waste as well as at oil refineries.

If not for all of Pyrowave's process, for the part that oil refineries can not do themselves.

The idea is worth taking up in conversations with oil refineries and the petrochemical industry.

This is a brilliant, effective and efficient idea and use of supply chains and resources already demonstrated by purpose-built recycling centres at both Shepperton Film Studios and Pinewood Film Studios in the UK that ensure reduced transportation of recovered materials, a maximum amount of material sent for recycling, and zero waste sent to landfill.

Having oil refineries in countries with no plastic recycling capabilities or infrastructure will be to their benefit and help them become part of the solution.

For a related article on solutions to plastic pollution and who pays for recycling, please read more at:
https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/having-plastic-producers-petrochemical-industry-pay-gutierrez-garcia/

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