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New plastics-to-fuel tools can help make business case for technology

The American Chemistry Council (ACC; Washington, DC) and Ocean Recovery Alliance (Hong Kong) have introduced two new tools aimed at helping global communities evaluate their potential to adopt plastics-to-fuel technologies. A growing number of experts believe that harnessing more of our non-recycled plastics to create valuable fuels and manufacturing feedstocks could dramatically reduce ocean litter and deliver economic and environmental benefits to local communities, said a release from the ACC.

Clare Goldsberry

June 12, 2015

4 Min Read
New plastics-to-fuel tools can help make business case for technology

The 2015 Plastics-to-Fuel Developers Guide and Cost Estimating Tool for Prospective Project Developers were designed to help potential investors and community leaders determine whether this rapidly growing family of technologies could be a good fit for meeting local waste management needs and demand for the relevant commodities. Available at no cost, these tools provide, for the first time, an exploration of available commercial technologies, operational facilities and things to consider when developing a business plan.

Also known as pyrolysis, today's plastics-to-fuel technologies are versatile and can be designed to match local conditions. Depending on the specific technology, a variety of products can be manufactured, including synthetic crude or refined fuels for home heating; ingredients for diesel, gasoline and kerosene; or fuel for combined heat and power for industrial use.

ACC also announced a new, animated video from the American Chemistry Council's Plastics-to-Oil Technologies Alliance (PTOTA) showcasing plastics-to-fuel technologies as a viable end-of-life solution for non-recycled plastics and a complement to recycling.

The video (embedded below), Plastics-to-Fuel: Creating Energy from Non-Recycled Plastics, explains pyrolysis technology—commonly known as plastics-to-fuel—and its potential to divert used, non-recycled plastics from landfills. Pyrolysis can generate a range of products, including transportation fuels, electricity and petroleum-based feedstocks for manufacturing. The video also discusses some of the barriers to growing the use of plastics-to-fuel technologies and proposes solutions to allow for wider adoption.

"We're manufacturers, not waste managers"

"The video shows the potential of expanding the number of plastics-to-fuel facilities to create jobs and locally sourced fuels and energy," said Michael Dungan, Director of Sales and Marketing for RES Polyflow and chairman of ACC's Plastics-to-Oil Technologies Alliance. "Our facilities create products; we're manufacturers, not waste managers."

"Plastics-to-fuel technologies complement recycling by converting non-recycled plastics into useful commodities," said Craig Cookson, Director of Sustainability and Recycling for ACC's Plastics Division. "Plastics are a valuable resource that should be kept out of landfills, and plastics-to-fuel technologies can help us do that."

These non-recycled plastics tend to involve multiple types of plastics and/or other materials, such as multi-layer pouches (bags for chips and snack mixes, laundry detergent pouches, and many frozen food bags, for example) or items with a lot of food residue, such as takeout containers and utensils, said ACC in response to submitted questions from PlasticsToday. Although these items aren't recycled, they have enormous potential for being converted to energy and fuels.

ACC also noted that much of this material could potentially be converted into fuels with wider deployment of plastics-to-fuel technologies. At present, the ACC is working to overcome regulatory barriers to adoption, including working with states to update existing laws and regulations, so plastics-to-fuel facilities can be classified as manufacturing facilities and/or producers of alternative energy, not as waste-disposal facilities. The process of converting non-recycled plastics to fuels and other petroleum products should not be considered waste disposal, but sometimes is categorized as such under outdated state regulations, ACC added.

To help address this issue, PTOTA has released a guide, Regulatory Treatment of Plastics-to-Fuel Facilities, to help regulators better classify this family of technologies. The guide includes a permitting checklist and two-page fact sheet on regulating plastics-to-fuel technologies.

According to EPS's 2012 municipal solid waste characterization report, there are about 29 million tons of non-recycled plastics eligible for energy conversion in the United States each year. According to a recently released annual report from the ACC, this valuable material could support the development of up to 600 plastics-to-fuel facilities, help create nearly 39,000 new jobs with $2.1 billion in annual payrolls and spur nearly $9 billion in yearly economic output.

Dungan told PlasticsToday in an interview that RES Polyflow has worked for a number of years on developing its plastics-to-fuel technology, which has resulted in strong commercial business for the company. "In manufacturing, you take something of a lower value and make something of a higher value, and it's no different for us," explained Dungan.

"Our process is able to tolerate low-value comingles plastics—scrap if you will—and make a high-value product, such as our low-sulfur diesel fuel," he added. "In our case it's a very robust process with a very strong profit incentive."

The Plastics-to-Oil Technologies Alliance counts Agilyx Corp. (Beaverton, OR); Cynar plc (London); RES Polyflow (Akron, OH); Americas Sytrenics (The Woodlands, TX); Sealed Air (Charlotte, NC); and Tetra Tech (Pasadena, CA) among its members.

About the Author(s)

Clare Goldsberry

Until she retired in September 2021, Clare Goldsberry reported on the plastics industry for more than 30 years. In addition to the 10,000+ articles she has written, by her own estimation, she is the author of several books, including The Business of Injection Molding: How to succeed as a custom molder and Purchasing Injection Molds: A buyers guide. Goldsberry is a member of the Plastics Pioneers Association. She reflected on her long career in "Time to Say Good-Bye."

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