Population growth and urbanization in developing countries have led to a dramatic rise in waste generation, especially plastic, causing damage to terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems. Thus, we propose deploying an appropriate technology-based, sustainable solution to convert plastic waste into a locally usable hydrocarbon fuel. Providing a market for waste plastic as well as entrepreneurial opportunities for developing communities meets a fundamental global need. This approach is called Locally Managed Decentralized Circular Economy (LMDCE).
DAUST works to convert plastic waste into fuel to combat the rising issue of plastic waste pollution through its Trash to Tank project, or 3T process, In a partnership with Engineers for Sustainable Energy Solutions (ESES) and Energy Research Consulting (EngrRC). This process converts post-consumer used plastic into plastic derived fuel oil (PDFO). This initiative allows the plastic to regain its value, while also being completely consumed and removed from the ecosystem.
This project is based on converting waste plastic of types 2 (High Density Polyethylene), 4 (Low-Density Polyethylene) and 5 (Polypropylene) into a liquid fuel referred to as Petroleum Derived Fuel Oil (PDFO) suitable for use in a diesel engine or cook stove. We will apply the principles of appropriate technology which is simple, low cost technology designed to meet the specific needs of a community, to develop a process that is simple, cost effective and efficient. Our process, called the trash to tank, or 3T process is simple, low cost and can be built and operated by individuals with little or no formal technical education. The waste plastic is converted to fuel oil by thermal decomposition. The needed heat can be provided using the principle of a rocket stove, fueled by wood, propane or recycled liquid fuel. Using this process, waste plastic becomes a valuable raw material that can be converted into a value-added product.
The principle contribution of this project will be to demonstrate a process that provides an economic value for waste plastic, and keeps it out of the ecosystem. The detrimental effects of waste plastic in the ecosystem have been well documented. The Ellen MacArthur Foundation estimates that unless the flow of plastic into the ocean is stopped, by 2050 the mass of plastic in the ocean will outweigh the mass of fish. Plastic to fuel is, so far, the only technology that removes plastic from the ecosystem, and leads to a net reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, on a life cycle basis. Other recycling methods, while important, simply delay the introduction of plastic waste into the ecosystem. Additionally, efforts to clean trash from the ocean can only make headway if the continuing stream of plastic is stopped.
Development projects such as the one proposed here are not sustainable without participation from the local community. Engagement of community stakeholders should be carried out from the beginning of the project to ensure their buy-in and ownership. This will also help the project team to fully understand the energy and waste management needs of the community so that the proposed solution may be appropriately applied. Community stakeholders will be consulted from the beginning of project planning till the end of project implementation.