In the Yukon, plastics are being used to heat northern homes thanks to a Japanese inventor who has found a way to transform landfilled packaging back into oil.
P&M Recycling in Whitehorse purchased the $200,000 machine made by Japanese inventor Kiyoshi Nakajima for a one-year pilot project. It can process 240 kilograms of plastic per day, generating enough oil to heat some 70 homes. At the same time, it is estimated to divert upwards of a million kilograms of plastic from Whitehorse landfills in its first year of production.
The technology is referred to as the Blest plastic-to-oil process, and only costs about 14 cents in electricity input per litre of fuel produced. Coarse pieces of plastic are cut into granules, then heated until the plastic turns into a liquid, and eventually a gas. Then it’s cooled. It creates a blend of gasoline, diesel, kerosene, and some heavy oils that can be used in an oil furnace – commonplace in Canada’s North – or it could be further processed for use in a diesel engine. The desk-sized machine generates some carbon residue, carbon dioxide and water vapour.
The purchase of the machine was made possible through funding from Cold Climate Innovation at the Yukon Research Centre and the Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency, in partnership with P&M Recycling.
Pat McInroy, owner of the P&M recycling centre, figures the operation can save upwards of $18,000 in per year in trucking and heating costs, plus labour costs for sorting and plastic baling.
According to science writer Craig Freudenrich, Ph.D., plastic is made from oil by starting "with various raw materials that make up the monomers. Ethylene and propylene, for example, come from crude oil, which contains the hydrocarbons that make up the monomers. The hydrocarbon raw materials are obtained from the 'cracking process' used in refining oil and natural gas. Once various hydrocarbons are obtained from cracking, they are chemically processed to make hydrocarbon monomers and other carbon monomers (like styrene, vinyl chloride, acrylonitrile) used in plastics."
And finally, Freudenrich says "the monomers carry out polymerization reactions in large polymerization plants. The reactions produce polymer resins, which are collected and further processed. Processing can include the addition of plasticizers, dyes and flame-retardant chemicals. The final polymer resins are usually in the forms of pellets or beads."