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Managing Editor  | April 2017

Researchers develop small-scale reactor to turn ocean plastic to fuel


At the 253rd National Meeting and Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS), sailboat captain James Holm and organic chemist Dr. Swaminathan Ramesh presented their research on a process for transforming ocean plastics into diesel fuel through a small, mobile reactor.

 

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James Holm (pictured) and Swaminathan Ramesh, Ph.D., teamed up to develop a
mobile reactor (also pictured) to convert waste plastic into fuel. (Claudia Rocha)

 

Holm told the assembled crowd at the ACS meeting that as a sailor for 40 years, he has seen firsthand the effect of plastics on the oceans and wanted to find a method for getting rid of the plastic material he saw washed up on beaches around the world. He formed Clean Oceans International, a non-profit with the mission of protecting the world’s oceans, and began speaking out on the subject.

 

Ramesh turned from his two decades of research at BASF and created EcoFuel Technology to begin working with Holm on the subject of ocean plastics.

 

An article on the ACS website said, “For years, Ramesh explains, pyrolysis technologies have been used to break down or depolymerize unwanted polymers, such as plastic wastes, leaving a hydrocarbon-based fuel. But the process usually calls for complex and costly refining steps to make the fuel useable.”

 

Ramesh developed a metallocene catalyst deposited on a porous material that was used in a controlled pyrolysis to yield diesel fuel without the need for refining. This breakthrough made the process cost-effective, possible at lower temperatures, and mobile.

 

According to Ramesh, the system can handle anywhere from 200-10,000 pounds per 10-hour day and that the system’s mobility allows it to be taken directly to the plastic, for instance on Holm’s boat.

 

The pair will be working with the city of Santa Cruz, Calif. on a demonstration of the technology to help the city rid itself of excess plastic waste and to fuel its vehicles.

 

There is a GoFundMe page created to support the project. The page reads, “We would like help purchasing a small scale P2F converter to run our tests with school, community and agriculture industry to introduce a profitable recycling option that is compact enough to set up in remote or isolated areas. The profitable aspect of this technology will introduce a motivation to better manage plastic waste, in turn keeping it from our ocean environment.”

 

Learn more about the technology in the video below:


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