Fuel made from plastic shopping bags could cut down on the amount of waste going into landfills and be a good fit to mix with biodiesel. This story from the University of Illinois says researchers at the school have found a way to turn the abundant litter into fuel.
The conversion produces significantly more energy than it requires and results in transportation fuels – diesel, for example – that can be blended with existing ultra-low-sulfur diesels and biodiesels. Other products, such as natural gas, naphtha (a solvent), gasoline, waxes and lubricating oils such as engine oil and hydraulic oil also can be obtained from shopping bags.
There are other advantages to the approach, which involves heating the bags in an oxygen-free chamber, a process called pyrolysis, said Brajendra Kumar Sharma, a senior research scientist at the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center who led the research. The ISTC is a division of the Prairie Research Institute at the University of Illinois.
“You can get only 50 to 55 percent fuel from the distillation of petroleum crude oil,” Sharma said. “But since this plastic is made from petroleum in the first place, we can recover almost 80 percent fuel from it through distillation.”
The researchers blended up to 30 percent of the plastic bag-based with regular diesel and had no compatibility problems with biodiesel.
An estimated 100 billion plastic shopping bags are thrown out each year in the U.S. alone. That could make for a pretty hefty feedstock for this fuel.