Animating the World of Plastics-to-Fuel Technologies

Animating the World of Plastics-to-Fuel Technologies

Sometimes a little animation help makes thing a little clearer, even in the world of plastics-to-fuel technologies.

Recently, the American Chemistry Council’s Plastics-to-Oil Technologies Alliance created several educational tools to showcase plastics-to-fuel technologies as a viable end-of-life solution for keeping non-recycled plastics out of landfills. Using animation to break down the process for policy makers, state regulators, waste management professionals, municipal officials, the group produced a “Plastics-to-Fuel: Creating Energy from Non-Recycled Plastics” video to explain that process, also known as pyrolysis technology.

Additionally, the group released a guide to complement the video and help regulators classify and regulate plastics-to-fuel technologies, including a permitting checklist and two-page fact sheet.

Craig Cookson, director of sustainability and recycling for the American Chemistry Council’s Plastics Division in Washington, DC., sat down with Waste360 to discuss the purpose of the new video and guide and the benefits and challenges involved in plastics-to-fuel technologies.

Waste360: What is the American Chemistry Council and its Plastics-to-Oil Technologies Alliance. Who are the members?

Craig Cookson: The American Chemistry Council’s Plastics-to-Oil Technologies Alliance works to enhance public policy in support of technologies that convert non-recycled plastics into a variety of petroleum based products. 

The Plastics-to-Oil Technologies Alliance counts the following as its members: Agilyx Corporation (Beaverton, Ore.), Cynar Plc (London, UK), RES Polyflow (Akron, Ohio), Americas Styrenics (The Woodlands, Texas), Sealed Air (Charlotte, N.C.), and Tetra Tech (Pasadena, Calif.).

Waste360: What is the purpose of the video?

Craig Cookson: Our new animated video, “Plastics-to-Fuel: Creating Energy from Non-Recycled Plastics,” showcases plastics-to-fuel technologies as a viable end-of-life solution for non-recycled plastics and a complement to recycling. It explains pyrolysis technology—commonly known as plastics-to-fuel—and its potential to divert non-recycled plastics from landfills. 

Waste360: Who is the target audience and what is its intended use?

Craig Cookson: The video aims to illustrate for policy makers, state regulators, waste management professionals, municipal officials, brand owners and others, the vast potential of these emerging technologies to help manage our post-use plastic resources more sustainably. It also points out some of the current regulatory challenges to wider adoption and explains how to overcome them. 

Chief among these is the need to update existing laws and regulations so plastics-to-fuel technologies are classified as manufacturing facilities and/or producers of alternative energy. 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 state regulations.

Waste360: What is the “Regulatory Treatment of Plastics-to-Fuel Facilities” guide? What is its purpose?

Craig Cookson: The Plastics-to-Oil Technologies Alliance recently released a guide, “Regulatory Treatment of Plastics-to-Fuel Facilities,” to help regulators better classify and regulate this family of technologies. The guide includes a permitting checklist and two-page fact sheet on regulating plastics-to-fuel technologies.

Waste360: What are the most popular plastics-to-fuel technologies and how do they work?

Craig Cookson: Plastics-to-fuel technologies can convert non-recycled used plastics into a range of useful fuels and manufacturing feedstocks. Depending on the specific technology chosen, these facilities can manufacture a variety of products, including synthetic crude oil or refined fuels for home heating; ingredients for diesel, gasoline and kerosene; or fuel for combined heat and power for industrial uses. Versatility makes plastics-to-fuel an exciting family of technologies.

Plastics-to-fuel conversion processes may vary, but most of them start when plastics that aren’t recycled are delivered to a processing facility. The next step is to remove any contaminants that might be present, like metal or glass, from the plastics stream. Then the plastics are heated without oxygen (a process called pyrolysis) until they melt and then gasify. The resulting gas is cooled and condensed into oil, fuels, and petroleum products, which can be used by manufacturers, by industrial users, or for transportation.

Waste360: What are the benefits and challenges of plastics-to-fuel technologies?

Craig Cookson: Plastics-to-fuel technologies are an emerging set of technologies that could bring about numerous environmental and economic benefits. For example, these technologies complement recycling and offer the potential to divert millions of pounds of resources from landfills annually, while reducing greenhouse gas emissions up to 60 to 70 percent over new crude oil extraction. One study showed that wide deployment of plastics-to-fuel technology across the United States could help create nearly 39,000 jobs, generate more than $2 billion in payrolls, and produce nearly $9 billion in economic output.

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