What are your kids doing during summer break? Chances are they’re not working on developing an eco-friendly biofuel product derived from plastic waste. An Egyptian student has done just that. The 16-year-old student, Assa Abdel Hamid Faiad, won the European Development Agreement award at the European Union Contest for Young Scientists held in Finland.
The whole biofuel production process works by introducing a catalyst, calcium bentonite, to breakdown the plastic into a gaseous state. The gases produced during the reaction include propane, ethane, and methane. These gases are then converted to ethanol for use as biofuel in compatible cars or for other applications.
The whole process is relatively inexpensive. Faiad hopes to patent the process and deliver a usable plastic-to-biofuel product to market later this year. Plastic waste makes up about 12 percent of the trash found in the municipal solid waste system in the United States, according to the EPA. This equates to about 31 million tons of waste. Only about eight percent of plastic waste is recycled, which is alarmingly low.
This new use for plastic trash should help alleviate some of the environmental problems associated with plastic waste. If you recall, we published a blog post focusing on the Great Pacific Garbage Patch not too long ago here at Trash Talk. Illegal plastic waste dumping in our oceans is quite a widespread problem affecting all parts of the globe. Plastic waste can take hundreds of years to decompose in nature or at landfills. Finding an alternative use for slow-decomposing plastics may have a huge impact on the amount of waste entering landfills and could impact the oil and auto industries.
America is always trying to find ways to lower dependence on foreign oil, and turning plastic waste into energy is just one way to make strides toward that goal. Modern U.S. landfill facilities currently have the capabilities to turn trash into energy by burning it or extracting the methane gas naturally produced by decomposing garbage.
These types of facilities are few and far between, as the technology is still young. It’s also very expensive for cities to upgrade or build new waste-to-energy landfill facilities. Faiad’s new plastics-to-energy process seems to be very safe. Nourwanda Sorour, one of Faiad’s mentors at Alexandria University in Egypt, stated, "The project can be safely implemented, as it doesn't emit any toxic gases, as long as its implementation abides by the safety measures applied for similar projects."