Researchers estimate that since the 1950s, there are 8.3 billion metric tonnes of plastic produced, and 6.3 billion tonnes of them turn into wastes. This is a problem because plastic wastes contain hazardous chemicals which pose a threat to human health.
What better way can scientists and engineers make use of these waste plastics? If you ask Satish Kumar, he would say that we should turn them into fuel.
Kumar knows what he is talking about. He is a mechanical engineer from Hyderabad, the capital of southern India’s Telangana state, who claims that he was able to turn waste plastics into fuel in just three steps.
“About 500 kg of non-recyclable plastic can produce 400 litres of fuel,” revealed Kumar.
The engineering process that the 45-year-old developed is composed of three steps wherein the plastic is indirectly heated in vacuum conditions, de-polymerized, gasified and condensed.
Kumar calls this reverse engineering system as plastic pyrolysis, which is said to produce diesel, aviation fuel, and petrol. The end-product is a fluid which resembles petrol but are not exactly the same.
“It’s a simple process which requires no water and doesn’t release waste water,” Kumar said. He runs a company called Hydroxy Systems Pvt Ltd., which is registered with the Ministry of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSME).
“Neither does [the process] pollute the air as the process happens in vacuum,” shared Kumar, assuring that combustion of the waste plastics is safe as it produces no sulphur and nitrate emissions.
In 2017, the unit he developed has cleared 50 tonnes of plastic. Production started in 2016.
The plastics that Kumar uses come from non-government organizations or companies which have a lot of plastic wastes.
It does not matter to Kumar’s technology that some plastics are being recycled only until about six cycles, because it accepts end-life plastic, which can’t be recycled further, in producing synthetic fuels. However, plastics like PVC and PET do not work with this process.
At the time, local industries are benefitting from the synthetic fuel sold at about $0.63 to $0.78 per liter. Take for example a bakery which uses it for broiler purposes.
There is so much potential in this fuel technology if everything that Kumar claims is proven to be true. Feasibility studies have been undertaken to check if the synthetic fuel can be used in vehicles, but as of posting there is no peer-reviewed publication to prove this.
Disclaimer: This is rehashed from an article I wrote in August 2017 for GineersNow. Some parts are added or edited for clarity.