“Single-use plastic scrap continues to be a growing problem internationally with only 9 percent of the 8.3 billion tons of plastic produced in the last 65 years being recycled. One of the biggest contributors to this issue is polyolefins, such as polypropylene and polyethylene.
Researchers at Purdue University are working to solve that problem by commercializing a new process of recycling plastics called low-pressure hydrothermal processing. Purdue University researcher and developer Linda Wang says the process is an economically and environmentally safer way to recycle polyolefin plastics than other methods, such as pyrolysis and depolymerization.
Wang says her method of recycling polyolefins can create products like gasoline, diesel fuel and other high-value items.
“Our hope is that by turning these plastics into other valuable resources, we can make recycling them into something economically valuable,” she says.
Low-pressure hydrothermal processing works by melting plastic in supercritical water using low pressure to convert plastic into naphtha. Once converted, it can be used as a feedstock for other chemicals or further separated into specialty solvents or other products. The process can recycle up to 90 percent of polyolefin plastics and takes about 45 minutes to complete, Wang says.
Because the process primarily uses water, Wang says it can cut equipment and maintenance costs while also reducing the number of resources needed to recycle the material. Right now, it is unclear how much the process will cost compared with other methods of advanced recycling like pyrolysis. Wang says the team is in the middle of bringing the process to commercial scale.
Wang says she believes the process creates a more environmentally friendly product, also. According to research done by Wang’s team, the conversion process saves 92 percent of energy compared with producing fuels from crude oil. The process also reduces greenhouse gas emissions by 71 percent compared with using crude oil in fuels.
The project is in the process of being commercialized by Hasler Ventures LLC. That company is working with American Resources Corp. to build a plant in Fishers, Indiana. Dan Hasler, the company’s president, says the small-scale plant will go live in about two years. If the project is successful, Hasler will begin to look for investors for commercialization which could take another three years….”
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