While plastic pollution can, to a certain extent, be taken care of through reduced plastic usage and through recycling, it still leaves out a good amount of plastic waste to be taken care of.
What can we do about these?
One of the avenues to convert plastic to value is to convert it into – oil!
Yes. Plastic waste, through a process called pyrolysis, can be converted into oil.
In a way, it is logical completeness. Our plastic today comes largely from oil, so why not turn it back into oil to overcome its disposal challenges!
When plastics are used in pyrolysis, the process is usually the faster version (also called Fast Pyrolysis, so there’s also a slower version – Slow Pyrolysis), in which most of the plastic material is converted into a thick oil similar to furnace oil.
While the pyrolysis technology is fairly old and is well established, pyrolysis based plastics-to-oil is still an evolving field. For one, there are concerns with the pollution generated by the exhaust gases. Besides, it is not entirely clear how cost competitive oil produced through pyrolysis will be, owing to the high capital and operational expenses. Cost competitiveness is further compounded by the fact that such competitiveness also relies on the price of crude, whose prices have seen significant volatility in the recent past.
While the plastic to oil process, through pyrolysis, has its merits, what I have seen in India (where I live) is not very encouraging. While there are some scale plastics to oil plants operating, overall, they have not been able to scale to convert large amounts of plastics to oil yet. I was told the main challenge they face (at least in India) was the poor reliability of the waste-plastic supply chain. The recent crash in crude prices have not helped this sector either, as it significantly reduced the price of furnace oil – the main product that oil from plastics was replacing.
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