Pyrolising plastics: An answer to cleaning up our oceans?


New Zealand company, Nufuels Ltd, has developed a small scale energy system that converts waste plastic bags and bottles and similar rubbish into fuels suitable for cooking, baking, drying and generating electricity.

The system is ideal for Pacific Island communities in particular; its intended especially for island resorts and dive operations who want to adopt solutions to waste plastics in their area. The system can be constructed on site, and is easy use.

Caritas NZ Nufuels’ pilot project developed the small, batch pyrolysis system for the processing of waste plastics (and possibly waste tyres) into solid, liquid and gas fuels.

A Nufuels/Caritas team took a demonstration unit to the Solomon Islands in 2018 to demonstrate the process and deliver first stage product (crude oil and gas) and what they can be useful for.

The system consists of a retort typically fired up with wood, or fuel from the process. The retort takes around 7kgs of mixed Polyethylene and PET. The pyrolysis gases pass through a condenser with crude fuel accumulating in the containers provided. The incondensable gas (mainly methane/ethane mix) is stored in a water sealed system.

Around 5kgs of a viscous plastics crude fuel and 2kgs of gas is produced per cook. The crude has about the energy density of diesel but has a low flash point so needs to be handled like petrol. The gas is suitable for cooking and running in a petrol generator set.

The crude fuel can be used in a rocket stove allowing baking and drying while keeping the fuel and exhausts away from the produce.

Experimentation with further distillation and gasification of the crude is ongoing.

The system offers a local integrated source of energy to meet most needs while helping dispose of a difficult waste. The only emissions to air from any part of the system arise from the burning of the various fuels. More complex plastics (e. brominated, chlorinated) do need to be avoided in the feedstock. For more go to:

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