NRI Scientists convert Plastic into Petroleum Products

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In a major breakthrough Indian-origin scientists based in US have successfully converted plastic shopping bags into diesel, natural gas and other petroleum products like naphtha (a solvent), gasoline, waxes and lubricating oils such as engine oil and hydraulic oil.

Brajendra Kumar Sharma, a senior research scientist at the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center led the research. He said it involved a process called pyrolysis which is essentially heating the bags in an oxygen-free chamber. One can get only 50 to 55% fuel from the distillation of petroleum crude oil but since this plastic is made from petroleum in the first place almost 80% fuel from it can recovered by pyrolysis.

Previous studies have used pyrolysis to convert plastic bags into crude oil. Sharma’s team took the research further 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. Results so far have been encouraging. Equivalent of US diesel it met all of the specifications required after addition of an antioxidant.

The Plastic-bag Menace

Plastic trash bags started appearing around the world by the late 1960s. North America and Western Europe account for nearly 80% percent of plastic bag use— though the bags are increasingly common in developing countries as well.

A quarter of the plastic bags used in wealthy nations are now produced in Asia. Each year Americans throw away some 100 billion polyethylene plastic bags. Only 0.6% of this is 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.

[Credit – Times of India]