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Envion Oil Generator turns plastic waste into oil

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September 21, 2009

The Envion Oil Generator, a new technology that converts plastic waste into oil, at the Mo...

The Envion Oil Generator, a new technology that converts plastic waste into oil, at the Montgomery County Waste Transfer Station

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The ground-breaking Envion Oil Generator (EOG) gave its first public performance at the Montgomery County Solid Waste Transfer Station in Derwood, Maryland recently. The EOG can be fed almost any petroleum-based waste plastic and will convert it into synthetic light to medium oil for less than USD$10 per barrel. As with crude oil, the synthetic oil can then be processed into commercial fuels or even back into plastic.

Both a saint and a sinner, plastic has touched almost every part of modern life. It's everywhere - we live in homes built using it, we eat and drink from it or with it, we drive encased in it, we walk wearing it, we are entertained by it, this article was typed using keys made from it. It has made our lives easier and we have become utterly dependent on it. But it's this very usefulness - 20 times more plastic is produced today than 50 years ago, some 260 million tons globally - that is behind plastic's biggest problem. What do you do with it when it's reached the end of its useful life?

Until relatively recently, our disposable Western mindset would tell us to simply throw the snapped plastic fork or the empty plastic bottle out with the rubbish. Although most of us have now been whipped up into a recycling frenzy, an awful lot of plastic still ends up as waste. In the US it is estimated that less than 4 percent of plastic waste is recycled (2 millions tons, leaving about 46 million tons to be disposed of in other ways).

Whether it's incinerated (which produces hazardous emissions and toxic ash) or buried in landfill (where various toxic chemicals are released during the slow degradation of plastics) or dumped at sea (that accounts for millions of tons of hazardous floating garbage, such as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch) - humans, animals and the environment suffer as a result.

Energy capture

Given that an awful lot of the plastic we use every day is derived from fossil fuels such as gas and oil and as such contains huge amounts of stored energy which simply goes to waste when it's thrown away, wouldn't it be great if we could capture all of this energy and re-use it?

That's essentially what Envion (a portmanteau of environment and vision) says its EOG does. A reactor converts waste plastic feedstock into oil through low temperature thermal cracking in a vacuum, extracting the hydrocarbons embedded in petroleum-based plastic waste without the use of a catalyst. Roughly around 62 percent of what goes into the unit is successfully converted into oil.

Interestingly, the EOG makes use of some of the by-products of the conversion process to power the unit. Vent gas is recycled to provide electricity and excess oil residue is transformed into emulsified heavy oil.

When Gizmag asked about other by-products, Envion's Todd Makurath told us: "There are three byproducts of the EOG operation: oxygen, carbon dioxide and ash. First it should noted that the EOG is actually carbon negative as an oil producer. That being said, we are an environmentally-focused company and aren't satisfied with just beating the average. The CO2 released by the EOG is minimal and well-within all EPA guidelines," said Makurath.

"The ash that is produced is the result of the use of our sludge dryer. We try to contain and reuse whatever we can in the system and as sludge is produced within the EOG it is fed into the sludge dryer where any excess or residual oil is extracted and fed back into the system to increase efficiency, and what is leftover is microwaved to produce a non-hazardous ash. There are no gaseous emissions from the sludge dryer. When all is said and done, the ash generally equates to less than 5 percent by weight of what was processed by the machine."

Each Envion unit is assembled on a single mobile base platform with dimensions 47ft x 13ft (14.3m x 4m) and is capable of processing up to 10,000 tons of plastic waste annually, producing three to five barrels of refined (99 percent sediment-free) petroleum product per ton of plastic waste (that's over one million gallons of oil per year per unit). Scaling up the unit merely involves adding more reactors, not whole systems.

Unlike current recycling methods, where mixing different kinds of plastic is a big no-no, the EOG has an 'all plastic is welcome' policy, no segregation here! Polyethylene terephthalate (PET); high and low density polyethylenes (HDPE and LDPE); polyvinyl chloride (PVC); polypropylene (PP) and polystyrene (PS) as well as several other plastic materials, such as GPPS, EPS, HIPS, and PA, can all be converted to oil by the unit.

The company estimates that its solution would have been able to accept and process between 60-80 percent of the total plastic waste thrown away in the U.S. in 2007 (based on EPA statistics).

At the recent launch in Maryland, company founder Michael S Han commented: "The Envion Oil Generator provides a revolutionary solution to the problem of plastic waste by transforming it from an environmental hazard into a sustainable, renewable energy source."

After 15 years in development, the EOG is now ready for deployment throughout the U.S. and beyond but Envion isn't planning to stop there. Its research and development boffins are currently looking into applying the conversion technology to other types of petroleum-based waste products, such as vehicle tires.

The good, the bad and...

The good - re-using the millions of tons of plastic waste instead of burying, dumping or burning it is undoubtedly a good thing. With processing costs of less than USD$30 per ton compared to other methods in excess of USD$200 per ton, it's a cheaper way of managing plastic waste, too.

The bad - the end product is oil which means that all the environmental consequences associated with it are likely to continue for some time to come.

The last great oil shock in the late 1970s fueled some wonderful ideas for alternatives to polluting power but as the distress died away, so did the ideas. The realization that oil reserves are finite, that some day soon oil production will come to an end, has finally started to hit home. A great innovation in itself, it would be a great shame if the widespread application of the Envion technology put a premature end to the increasingly numerous clean-power innovations that are regularly showcased on Gizmag's pages.

The following video shows the EOG in action:

About the Author
Paul Ridden While Paul is loath to reveal his age, he will admit to cutting his IT teeth on a TRS-80 (although he won't say which version). An obsessive fascination with computer technology blossomed from hobby into career before the desire for sunnier climes saw him wave a fond farewell to his native Blighty in favor of Bordeaux, France. He's now a dedicated newshound pursuing the latest bleeding edge tech for Gizmag.   All articles by Paul Ridden
7 Comments

yes please,

I will take delivery of one.

Charge it to my master card.

In regards to tyres, isn't there an oil producing (and steel and rubber) tyre recycling plant been invented in Australia... I'm sure I saw a article on here about it.

Craig Jennings
21st September, 2009 @ 06:58 pm PDT

Generally, this sounds like a clever machine and a great way to reduce our dependence on foreign oil (along with the environmental costs of transporting oil around the world) while simultaneously reducing the amount of waste dumped into the ground or ocean.

I see the potential risk that a good plastic-to-oil machine could derail some of the non-oil alternatives, but most technologies/materials (oil included) are not inherently bad for the environment. After all, we didn't invent oil. It's been on the planet for billions of years. We just have used oil in ways that were harmful to the planet's ecosystem. If we can come up with ways to use oil more efficiently and with less pollution, perhaps that can be one component of an overall greener, more efficient economy.

- Aaron Dalton, Editor, http://1GreenProduct.com

1greenproduct
22nd September, 2009 @ 07:07 am PDT

"..it would be a great shame if the widespread application of the Envion technology put a premature end to the increasingly numerous clean-power innovations that are regularly showcased on Gizmag's pages." If I took your doom and gloom sentiment as an indication of how well this technology works than I'm very excited. Most recycling programs are restricted to 1 and 2 plastic. Granted a lot of the plastic we use is 1 and 2 but a fair amount isn't. This plastic as you said ends up in landfills or burnt in a waste - energy plant. Obviously it's too soon to say what emissions may come out of burning fuel refined from this new oil but I'd wager it's better than plastic burning as plastic.

While in America the plastic grocery bag flies in trees as the official flag of urban areas, it's undoubtedly an awesome feat that a single stream recycling for plastic could turn these objects into resources yet again. While I agree ending the "clean-power" innovations would be terrible, I disagree with your dire prediction and can not see this as anything other than a brilliant recycle/reuse operation.

CreativeApex
22nd September, 2009 @ 09:29 am PDT

let us hope this technology is allowed to spread world wide,,,,,,a very good idea,,,,,,,,,,,,,,, top marks to the inventors

robinyatesuk2003
22nd September, 2009 @ 08:07 pm PDT

These processing plants, along with appropriate collecting devices, might be mounted on ships and sent to the areas of the ocean where large amounts of floating plastic debris have been reported. This might be so profitable that it will be undertaken by private entrepreneurs, thus adding no additional burden to already strained taxpayers.

SeaSong
25th September, 2009 @ 08:03 am PDT

This is Awesome! Recently I saw some pieces on shows like CNN and the journal with Joan Lunden on PBS that were talking about issues and solutions for industrial recycling. This kind of thing takes it to the next level. Of course it's not as good as eliminating oil altogether but it will help get rid of some of the waste for now. I hope they do well.

Larry Davis
16th September, 2011 @ 02:02 pm PDT

I keep thinking of this invention and wondering whatever happened to it. Well, for anyone else who is curious.

"Ex-CIA Deputy Director Frank Carlucci Fell for This Scam. Would You?"

http://www.dailyfinance.com/2013/05/31/frank-carlucci-plastic-into-oil-scam/

I guess I fell for it too, but not to the tune of 32 million. Ouch.

Gwiles
28th May, 2014 @ 11:24 am PDT
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