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The Warsaw Voice » Other » November 19, 2008
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Fuel from Plastic Waste
November 19, 2008   
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High-quality engine fuel made from old tires and bumpers? Why not. This is not science fiction-Polish engineer Zbigniew Tokarz has developed an innovative technology to recycle plastic waste. He can even produce fuel from plastic packaging, television parts, computer casings and canisters. The technology has attracted the interest of companies from across Europe and Asia.

The innovative waste recycling system developed by Tokarz is called T-Technology. It won the Gold EEP Award 2006 for best environmental technology at the Environmental Innovation for Europe competition, which is held by the European Environmental Press (EEP) organization and draws companies from all over Europe every year.

The method has also won a certificate of recognition from the Polish Minister of the Economy and has been named a "Technology Worth Recommending" by the National Environmental Council.

Tokarz says he has invented "a reactor with a complete line for the catalytic processing of plastic waste into fuel components." He developed his pioneering technology in his Technologie Ekologiczne company based in the city of Bełchatów, central Poland. The line is special in that it solves the problem of plastic waste recycling and responds to demand for alternative energy and fuels.

Recycling waste at no extra cost
The system converts harmful waste into fuel. The installation is small, cheap, and easy to operate. Waste fed into the reactor is melted at a temperature of around 400 degrees Celsius, then vaporized and cooled to produce liquid fuel components. The chemical reactions involved in the process take place at normal pressure and without oxygen. As a result, no harmful gases are emitted to the atmosphere.

The products obtained in the process are a mixture of hydrocarbons and their properties resemble the properties of petroleum. They can be used to produce new plastic packaging and parts of various devices or heating oil and engine fuel-both gasoline and diesel. Another application is the production of household and industrial chemicals, such as lubricants, greases, and modeling pastes. In the future, the reactor could be used to produce hydrogen.

The whole process takes place in an air-tight reactor at atmospheric pressure. The temperature inside the reactor ranges from 390 to 420 degrees Celsius. The installation can process 250 kilograms of waste per hour.

"The plastic waste recycling process involves the catalytic conversion of products fed into the reactor," says Tokarz. "The conversion takes place inside the T-Technology installation where the plastics are broken down, or depolymerized, under the influence of temperature, without oxygen-which means no combustion-and at atmospheric pressure. As a result, we obtain a product with new utilitarian properties."

The system is simple to operate and does not require much investment or a large staff, Tokarz says. To put it into operation, one only needs to have a shop floor of around 1,000 square meters and at least 6.5 meters high, he adds. The installation can be operated by four people.

The waste to be recycled may come from various industrial sectors, including electronics, petrochemicals, hi-tech products, food, chemicals, cars, cosmetics and pharmaceuticals. The plastics which are most widely used are polyethylene and polypropylene.

Plastic waste for the recycling process does not have to be quite clean. It can contain up to 20 percent of impurities, such as sand, dust, water, and metal filings. Around 400-510 metric tons of waste a month is needed to ensure continuous work of a two-reactor process line. This amount of waste can be converted into over 250 tons of a liquid fuel component, the final product in the process.

The installation does not merely turn plastics back into hydrocarbons. "The technology is unique in that it enables the processing of waste taken directly from dumping sites-with impurities, unprepared and unsorted-in a way that is fully friendly to the environment," says Tokarz.

Economical and risk-free
Tokarz started work on his system in 2000. His initial installations ensured the required environmental effect, but were not economical. The T-Technology system, which is the latest version of the installation, has overcome this problem. Tokarz has also made some improvements, thanks to which his installation is now more efficient and environmentally friendly than similar systems produced in other countries. Unlike its German and Japanese counterparts, it does not work at high pressure, which reduces the risk of explosion. It also has a special waste filter so nothing wrong can happen if a glass jar or tin gets into the installation together with plastic waste. Additionally, the waste can contain impurities and does not need to be ground down. The installation is quiet and does not give off any smell.

Companies from many countries, including the Czech Republic, Germany, Ireland, Sweden, Norway, Italy, Hungary, China, Canada, and Australia, are interested in Tokarz's invention. The technology has been shown at exhibitions in Britain, Germany, France, Italy, and several Asian countries. Recently, Tokarz's company started working with a Hungarian partner to increase the volume of installations produced and boost exports to other countries.

Julia Pawłowska
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