Plastic shopping bags, an abundant source of litter on land and at sea, can be converted into diesel, natural gas and other useful petroleum products, researchers report.
The conversion produces significantly more energy than it requires and results in transportation fuels – diesel, for example – that can be blended with existing ultra-low-sulfur diesels and biodiesels. Other products, such as natural gas, naphtha (a solvent), gasoline, waxes and lubricating oils such as engine oil and hydraulic oil also can be obtained from shopping bags.
A report of the new study appears in the journal Fuel Processing Technology.
There are other advantages to the approach, which involves heating the bags in an oxygen-free chamber, a process called pyrolysis, said Brajendra Kumar Sharma, a senior research scientist at the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center who led the research. The ISTC is a division of the Prairie Research Institute at the University of Illinois.
“You can get only 50 to 55 percent fuel from the distillation of petroleum crude oil,” Sharma said. “But since this plastic is made from petroleum in the first place, we can recover almost 80 percent fuel from it through distillation.”
Americans throw away about 100 billion plastic shopping bags each year, according to the Worldwatch Institute. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reports that only about 13 percent are recycled. The rest of the bags end up in landfills or escape to the wild, blowing across the landscape and entering waterways.
Plastic bags make up a sizeable portion of the plastic debris in giant ocean garbage patches that are killing wildlife and littering beaches. Plastic bags “have been detected as far north and south as the poles,” the researchers wrote.
“Over a period of time, this material starts breaking into tiny pieces, and is ingested along with plankton by aquatic animals,” Sharma said. Fish, birds, ocean mammals and other creatures have been found with a lot of plastic particles in their guts.
Whole shopping bags also threaten wildlife, Sharma said.
“Turtles, for example, think that the plastic grocery bags are jellyfish and they try to eat them,” he said. Other creatures become entangled in the bags.
Previous studies have used pyrolysis to convert plastic bags into crude oil. Sharma’s team took the research further, however, by fractionating the crude oil into different petroleum products and testing the diesel fractions to see if they complied with national standards for ultra-low-sulfur diesel and biodiesel fuels.
“A mixture of two distillate fractions, providing an equivalent of U.S. diesel #2, met all of the specifications” required of other diesel fuels in use today – after addition of an antioxidant, Sharma said.
“This diesel mixture had an equivalent energy content, a higher cetane number (a measure of the combustion quality of diesel requiring compression ignition) and better lubricity than ultra-low-sulfur diesel,” he said.
The researchers were able to blend up to 30 percent of their plastic-derived diesel into regular diesel, “and found no compatibility problems with biodiesel,” Sharma said.
“It’s perfect,” he said. “We can just use it as a drop-in fuel in the ultra-low-sulfur diesel without the need for any changes.”
The research team also included Bryan Moser, Karl Vermillion and Kenneth Doll, of the USDA National Center for Agricultural Utilization Research, in Peoria, Ill.; and Nandakishore Rajagopalan, of the ISTC at the U. of I.
The Illinois Hazardous Waste Research Fund and the Environmental Research and Education Foundation supported this study.
Editor’s note: To reach Brajendra Sharma, call 217-265-6810; email firstname.lastname@example.org. The paper, “Production, Characterization and Fuel Properties of Alternative Diesel Fuel From Pyrolysis of Waste Plastic Grocery Bags,” is available online or from the U. of I. News Bureau.
Category Archives: Recycling
Read the full story from Mother Nature Network.
Plastic is piling up in ecosystems all over the world, not just oceans and lakes. Its harmful effects on wildlife have been widely documented, but a few animals — like bowerbirds and hermit crabs — are doing what they can to recycle it. And according to a new study, wild bees in Canada have joined the effort, using bits of plastic waste to build their nests.These tiny insects can’t recycle nearly enough plastic to put a significant dent in the problem, but their resourceful use of polyurethane and polyethylene is still a rare, encouraging example of nature making the best of manmade plastic pollution.
Read the full story in The Guardian.
From using non-recyclable materials as fuel to closing the loop in soft drinks packaging – the waste sector is seeing the value in reclaimed materials.
Wednesday, February 19, 2014 9-10 am CST
Register at https://www1.gotomeeting.com/register/480016865
This webinar will provide an overview and demonstrate tools to model the benefits of alternative end-of-life waste management comparisons. The Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emission implications of purchasing recycled content products, as well as, reusing and source reducing material in products that we use will be presented.
The webinar is hosted by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality and features a presentation by Deanna Lizas, ICF International, on the Waste Reduction Model (WARM) and Recycled Content (ReCon) Tool.
The Minnesota State Legislature has directed the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency to produce a report detailing recommendations for a statewide “recycling refund program” for beverage containers that would achieve an 80 percent recycling rate. This report is due to the Legislature in January 2014.
A draft of the cost-benefit analysis report is located here.
Read the full story at Mother Nature Network.
While it generally falls under the “scourge” category, bottled water plays an indispensible role in disaster recovery efforts. It’s also one of the first, if not the first, thing to appear after a disaster, natural or manmade, strikes — truckloads of the stuff can show up hours, sometimes days, before the medicine, the clothing, the back-up generators, the supplies, and the endless FEMA paperwork arrive on the scene. It’s one of those rare occasions when a not-so-necessary evil is rendered absolutely necessary.And more often than not, these thousands upon thousands of plastic water bottles distributed to and discarded by disaster survivors end up being added to what is undoubtedly already a huge — perhaps catastrophic —mess. Realizing that a.) bottled water is generally super-quick to arrive at relief sites and b.) the consumed and discarded bottles are generally not recycled or reused considering the sometimes dire circumstances surrounding their deployment, a student team from the School of Architecture & Design at the New York Institute of Technology have conceived a prototype disaster relief shelter with a “durable, climate-appropriate” roofing system constructed from, you guessed it, upcycled plastic water bottles.
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency hosted Adam Minter, author of Junkyard Planet, as part of their Product Stewardship Speakers Series. He offered his insights into the global nature of recycling.
View the recording at http://stream3.video.state.mn.us/Mediasite/Play/8bd1f1bbf9174bdcae701a27466ded3d1d
Read the full story in Environmental Leader.
During this collegiate football season, more than 85 schools across the US have recycled and composted cans and bottles, cardboard and food scraps, keeping about 1.5 million pounds of game-day waste out of landfills and preventing about 1,980 metric tons of carbon dioxide from being released.
This is according to the College & University Recycling Coalition (CURC), Keep America Beautiful and RecycleMania, which, with support from the EPA, administered the 2013 Game Day Challenge.