In a bid to improve the end-life value chain of plastics, much of which ends up in landfills or in the ocean, companies are exploring ways to convert plastic waste into a more useful form. One such company, Recycling Technologies, has developed a process to convert plastic waste into a compound with similar properties to HFO – without the latter’s high sulphur content. The compound, called Plaxx™, is to be tested by Ricardo Energy & Environment for its effectiveness as a possible replacement for bunker fuel for the marine shipping industry.
Plastic is both a very useful material as well as a very wasteful and damaging to the environment. As it stands, one estimate finds that up to 8 million tonnes of plastic ends up in the world’s oceans each year, with a total of 150 million tonnes having leaked so far. The full long-term effects that plastics, and the chemicals harboured in them, have on marine life are as yet unknown – considerable negative effects to both micro and macro organisms have been documented, from affecting reproduction to strangulation.
While efforts are being made to improve collection, particularly in Asian countries where the highest incidences of leakage into the oceans occur, the options for dealing with much of the waste is currently limited. In the EU, for instance, around 25 million tonnes of plastic waste is produced each year, of which 26% is recycled, 36% is incinerated and 38% is dumped. Yet, even while certain types can be effectively recycled, the recycling process can be costly, both in terms of energy requirements for transport and reprocessing, while landfilling plastics means that the material is (a) lost from the value chain and (b) takes up space. Finding ways to improve plastic recycling, or reducing its use, is one of the wider moves towards a circular economic model.
As it stands a number of companies are seeking to develop solutions to the problem, some, want to develop bioplastics that can be converted by bacteria or sunlight into inert, or even beneficial, particles, while IBM recently developed a process to recycle polycarbonates into nontoxic plastic. Others, such as Recycling Technologies, have developed a method of converting residual plastic waste into a low sulphur hydrocarbon compound, called Plaxx™, that is suitable for incineration (combustion) as a replacement for more polluting HFO fuel sources or as a feedstock for other combustion products, such as candles.
Ricardo Energy & Environment will work with Recycling Technologies to test a range of qualities related to the performance of Plaxx™ compared to HFO and diesel in the types of engines used within the shipping industry – one of the possible users of the end product. The fuel will be tested in the firm’s Ricardo Atlas II research engine. The fuels will be compared across a range of fuel loads, for their characteristics related to in-cylinder pressure, power, specific fuel consumption and exhaust emissions. Through the tests a more comprehensive spectrum of Plaxx™ as a fuel can be mustered, allowing for the company to refine the output from their recycling process to deliver an efficient, low emissions, fuel.
“Finding solutions to landfill diversion is a critical challenge facing modern society,” says Adam Read, Ricardo Energy & Environment practice Director for resource efficiency & waste management. “The ability to generate fuels and recover plastics is key to the sustainable management of the world’s resources. As such, assessing the viability of the process during the pilot phase is an exciting and potentially ground-breaking step for Ricardo and the team from Recycling Technologies.”
Adrian Griffiths, CEO Recycling Technologies, comments, “The marine industry is a key market as the use of high sulphur oil is increasingly being restricted. Working together with Ricardo on this project, we are now taking steps to get Plaxx™ qualified so that it is fit for use in medium and large marine engines. Plaxx™ is an ultra-low sulphur feedstock and can be adapted for use in any markets where crude oil derivatives are used. Through this pilot project, we hope to qualify Plaxx™ as meeting the new global MARPOL requirements.”