Turning Plastic To Oil

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimated in 2006 that we produce over 48 million tons of plastic waste, a rate that grows by 7% annually. Only 2 million tons of plastic waste are recycled, leaving the rest to clog landfills or circle the gyre in the Pacific Ocean.

Plastic to oil, credit: US FWS, FlickrCC

But one person’s waste is another’s opportunity. Envion, a company founded by Michael Han in 2004, has developed a machine that converts petroleum-based plastic waste into synthetic light, medium and emulsified oil for less than $10 per barrel. The Envion Oil Generator (EOG) uses a process that extracts the hydrocarbons embedded in plastic waste without a catalyst. The reactor uses a heating system that converts plastic through low-temperature thermal cracking in a vacuum. Around 62% of what goes into the machine is converted into oil.

The conversion process creates three byproducts: oxygen, carbon dioxide and ash. It’s a closed-loop system, and considered carbon negative. Any vented gas and byproducts of the process are used to power the machine. And unlike conventional recycling, the EOG can take plastic any way it comes—even dirty, wet or unsorted. The final sediment-free product can then be turned into gasoline, kerosene, jet fuel and diesel.

A Japanese company, Blest, has a YouTube video highlighting their plastic-to-oil machine. If we use only the world’s plastic waste, Blest CEO Akinori Ito explains, rather than oil from fields, carbon dioxide emissions could be dramatically decreased.

Critics are concerned that since the product is still oil, it will be converted into energy in the same way the original oil from the ground was converted—along with all the greenhouse gases it’s notorious for emitting.

CONTACTS: Blest YouTube video; Envion.