Scientists from IIT Madras have developed a solar powered system to convert non-recyclable plastic into fuel that can substitute diesel used in generators, furnaces and engines.
The technology – which consists of a mobile unit that can collect and process waste – currently yields around 0.7 litres of fuel oil per kilogramme of plastic, researchers said.
“India produces approximately 15,000 tonnes of plastic waste in a day. Centralised systems for plastic waste management cannot work to effectively deal with this much plastic waste on a daily basis,” said Ramya Selvaraj, a research student at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Madras in Tamil Nadu.
“We thought that if the plastic can’t come to the industry, let the industry come to the plastic,” Selvaraj said.
The team showcased its project on the occasion of the World Environment Day, hosted by the United Nations (UN) in New Delhi.
The theme of this year’s World Environment Day was “Beat Plastic Pollution“.
The conversion of plastic to fuel involves a process called pyrolysis – a thermochemical treatment that exposes the material to high temperature in the absence of oxygen, leading it to go through physical and chemical changes.
This creates a low density fuel oil by breaking down the polymer chain of plastic at the temperature of 350- 500 degrees Celsius. This oil can be used as a substitute for diesel to power generators, furnaces and engines.
“Our major proposition was instead of taking technology to waste, taking all the waste to a decentralised technology which is a very complex model in solid waste management,” said Aravind E S, a research student at IIT Madras.
“We found that the current plastic waste management systems were not working because of the logistics involved; there were cost and space requirements that could not be met,” Selvaraj added.
The team was led by Divya Priya, assisted by technical guide Professor Indumathi Nambi of IIT Madras, and industrial mentor Sriram Narasimhan of Samridhi Foundation, a Chennai based NGO.
They won the Zero Carbon Challenge-2018, pioneered by IIT Madras, bagging an initial funding of five lakhs for the development of the prototype, and another 10 lakhs for incubating the idea.
“We have approached the government and municipal corporations in multiple cities in Tamil Nadu to put up the small recovery units at the material faculty in all the wards for waste collection and management. This can reduce costs involved in transportation, dumping sites and increase the efficiency with which the waste is dealt,” Selvaraj added.