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The Warsaw Voice » Other » December 3, 2008
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Turning Plastic Waste into Fuel
December 3, 2008   
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Polish engineer Zbigniew Tokarz-from the city of Bełchatów, 180 km southwest of Warsaw-has developed an innovative technology to produce quality engine fuel from plastic waste.

The technology is based on a recycling system that can process anything from plastic packaging to old tires and car bumpers, as well as-believe it or not-television parts and computer casings. The invention, referred to as T-Technology, has attracted the interest of companies from across Europe and Asia.

The innovative waste recycling system developed by Tokarz has won a number of international awards, including 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. According to experts, the Gold EEP Award is the most important distinction in the environmental protection sector in Europe.

Tokarz's method has also won a certificate of recognition from the Polish economy minister and has been named a "Technology Worth Recommending" by the National Environmental Council. Tokarz also won the 8th Environment Friendly competition in the category of environment-friendly companies and has twice won a competition held by the Migut Media company in the "Environmental Protection Leader" category.

Tokarz calls his invention "a reactor with a complete line for the catalytic processing of plastic waste into fuel components." He developed this pioneering technology in his Technologie Ekologiczne company based in Bełchatów. The line is special in that it solves the problem of plastic waste recycling and meets demand for alternative energy and fuels, Tokarz says.

The T-Technology installation is small, cheap, and easy to operate. Waste fed into it is melted at a temperature of 390-420 degrees Celsius, then vaporized and cooled to produce liquid fuel components. The chemical reactions involved in the process take place at normal atmospheric pressure and without oxygen. As a result, no harmful gases are emitted to the atmosphere.

The installation can process 250 kilograms of waste per hour, and the products obtained in the process are a mixture of hydrocarbons whose properties resemble those of petroleum.

T-Technology can be used to produce engine fuel and heating oil, in addition to household detergents and industrial chemicals such as lubricants, greases and modeling pastes. In the future, the installation could be used to produce hydrogen, Tokarz says.

"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 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. This means that no additional money has to be spent to prepare the waste for recycling.

The average household in the European Union produces around 300 kilograms of plastic waste every year. Most of it is packaging, experts say.

Tokarz began working on his system in 2000. His initial installations ensured the required environmental effect, but were not economical. The latest version of the installation is 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, Tokarz says. It also has a special waste filter so nothing can go wrong if a glass jar or metal can 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, Tokarz adds.

Companies from countries such as Germany, Ireland, Sweden, Norway, Italy, China and Canada 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 capacity of the system and enter international markets.

"One needs to work with local partners on more exotic markets with a product like this," Tokarz says. "It is not profitable to produce the installation in Poland and then transport it to South Korea or Mexico. I am looking for partners who would be able to produce and service this equipment abroad."

Julia Pawłowska
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