Could plastic bags power your car in the future?

17th September 2018 | Recycling

Research at Cranfield University is working to understand the potential recovery of valuable chemicals from plastic-containing waste which is not currently recycled. This would divert low-grade plastic waste from landfill to produce chemicals for use in manufacturing or as liquid fuels. Due to the under capacity of suitable refuse plants in the UK, over three million tonnes per annum (tpa) of potential refuse-derived fuels (RDF) are currently exported.

Locally sourced sustainable alternatives to fossil fuels are crucial as the UK, and the rest of the world, seeks to develop safe waste management and energy security. There is a significant interest in resource recovery, based around a circular economy. The University’s research will support producing high value materials from wastes otherwise destines for landfill or as use as direct energy conversion, that is, power from incineration.

Plastic bags

Partnering with Syngas Products and WestAfricaENRG, the research team will demonstrate that RDF and wastes containing low-grade plastic materials, which are currently rejected by material recycling facilities (MRS), can be used in a town-scale pyrolysis plant. Developed by Syngas Products, the plants produce energy, alongside affordable and high-quality liquid fuels, for use as base chemicals in manufacturing. By adding additional processing to the existing Syngas Products technology for waste processing, this “upcycling” approach could be a commercially viable option to solve both the low-grade plastic waste issues and dependency on fossil fuels for transport.

Dr Stuart Wagland, Senior Lecturer in Energy & Environmental Chemistry at Cranfield said, “RDF material is energy-rich and represents a loss-of-resource once it leaves the UK. Similarly, substantial quantities, around 340,000 tpa, of rejected and mixed low-grade plastics from UK MRFs are produced each year, as the market for recovering and recycling this material is not commercially viable. Our research to date shows that through smaller-scale advanced thermal treatment, pyrolysis in this case, products can be recovered in addition to the energy and power.

More information available on the website below