Can Plastic Fuel Cars?

04 March 2018

Lab Chat

Plastic and fuel are two of the world’s biggest environmental problems. As plastic waste stacks up, fuels like diesel and petrol are continually releasing more pollutants into the environment – both from their production and use. The solution? Turn plastic into fuel. Read on to see how plastic-to-fuel technology is taking off in the UAE.

The problem with plastic

Research suggests over 8 billion tonnes of plastic has been produced over the last six decades. Of this, around 6.3 billion tonnes has become plastic waste. And, while many people try to keep up with their recycling, it’s estimated just nine percent of the that waste has been recycled.

As we’re now well aware, plastic takes hundreds of years to degrade. The result? Billions of tonnes of plastic waste is now sat around in landfills, or polluting the land and seas. It can cause serious harm to wildlife – whether on land or in the oceans. Clearly, it’s something we need to control much better.

Plastic to fuel

There’s an ever-expanding list of products that can be used to create alternative fuels, with researchers even exploring ways to use sugarcane to create jet fuel. However, a new partnership in Abu Dhabi is looking to use plastic to create transportation grade fuels.

The Abu Dhabi Future Energy Company, known as Masdar, is planning to work with Envyron Energy to explore how to improve plastic-to-fuel technology. They want to convert Abu Dhabi’s plastic waste into fuel, raising awareness of sustainable waste management in the process.

How does it work?

When plastic is produced, it requires natural energy sources, either oil or natural gas. This leaves hydrocarbons stored in the plastic material, which is essentially stored energy. By extracting these hydrocarbons, it’s possible to make new fuel – and get something out of previously unusable plastics.

Of course, it still makes sense to recycle plastic. However, some plastic isn’t recyclable – depending on its chemical structure. This is where plastic-to-fuel processes come in. Non-recyclable plastics are heated – not burnt – and melted, then vaporised into gases, releasing the ingredients which can be used to heat homes and fuel vehicles.

Unlocking the value in plastic

This is a promising development the environment, reducing the amount of plastic waste entering oceans and landfills. But it’s also beneficial as it stops valuable resources going to waste in the form of plastic.

“As Masdar City continues to grow, we will incorporate new technologies and best practices to reinforce its position as a model for low-carbon urban development,” explains Yousef Baselaib, Masdar’s executive director for sustainable real estate. “A product of our energy economy, plastic, is much too valuable to be wasted”


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