The ground-breaking Envion Oil Generator (EOG) gave its first public performance at the Montgomery County Solid Waste Transfer Station in Derwood, Maryland recently.
The EOG can be fed almost any petroleum-based waste plastic and will convert it into synthetic light to medium oil for less than USD$10 per barrel. As with crude oil, the synthetic oil can then be processed into commercial fuels or even back into plastic.
Both a saint and a sinner, plastic has touched almost every part of modern life. It’s everywhere – we live in homes built using it, we eat and drink from it or with it, we drive encased in it, we walk wearing it, we are entertained by it, this article was typed using keys made from it. It has made our lives easier and we have become utterly dependent on it. But it’s this very usefulness – 20 times more plastic is produced today than 50 years ago, some 260 million tons globally – that is behind plastic’s biggest problem. What do you do with it when it’s reached the end of its useful life?
Until relatively recently, our disposable Western mindset would tell us to simply throw the snapped plastic fork or the empty plastic bottle out with the rubbish. Although most of us have now been whipped up into a recycling frenzy, an awful lot of plastic still ends up as waste. In the US it is estimated that less than 4 percent of plastic waste is recycled (2 millions tons, leaving about 46 million tons to be disposed of in other ways).
Whether it’s incinerated (which produces hazardous emissions and toxic ash) or buried in landfill (where various toxic chemicals are released during the slow degradation of plastics) or dumped at sea (that accounts for millions of tons of hazardous floating garbage, such as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch) – humans, animals and the environment suffer as a result.
Given that an awful lot of the plastic we use every day is derived from fossil fuels such as gas and oil and as such contains huge amounts of stored energy which simply goes to waste when it’s thrown away, wouldn’t it be great if we could capture all of this energy and re-use it?
That’s essentially what Envion (a portmanteau of environment and vision) says its EOG does. A reactor converts waste plastic feedstock into oil through low temperature thermal cracking in a vacuum, extracting the hydrocarbons embedded in petroleum-based plastic waste without the use of a catalyst. Roughly around 62 percent of what goes into the unit is successfully converted into oil.
Interestingly, the EOG makes use of some of the by-products of the conversion process to power the unit. Vent gas is recycled to provide electricity and excess oil residue is transformed into emulsified heavy oil.