For several years, scientists have been researching and articles have been written about the ability to turn waste plastic back into oil and its component chemicals. Also getting a lot of attention is the idea that certain plastic materials can be turned into jet fuel. This process is called pyrolysis. Pyrolysis is the changing of the chemical composition of a material resulting in the decomposition of it, using high temperatures.

It’s no big news that companies around the world have been working on finding a solution to plastic waste. We have produced 8.3 billion tons of it since 1950, and it is a huge environmental issue. Recycling plastic has always been challenging. It usually means the creation of a plastic item from another plastic item; the problem is that the new plastic item is inferior to the original and does not have the value it once did. Due to limitations, only about 9% of plastics are actually recycled. That’s why finding a solution like this one is very appealing.

Pyrolysis, or the breaking down plastic to its chemicals, is not a new idea. It’s just that in the past, the temperatures needed to create the decomposition have been extremely high – between 300 and 900 degrees Celsius in an oxygen-free environment. This process has not been efficient or environmentally-friendly.

A research team at Washington State University began experimenting with pretreating the plastic with different combinations of solvents prior to introducing heat to the process. According to the team, the solvents changed the physical properties of the plastic making it more accepting of the catalyst. With this process, they were able to convert 90% of the plastic to its components, within one hour and at a temperature of only 220 degrees Celsius.

The researchers decided to see what would happen when chemically deconstructing polyethylene, which is one of the most common forms of plastic in the world. The converted plastic broke down to jet fuel components, as well as other hydrocarbon products. The team sees that this process could be used with other plastic materials.

However, this process has its critics. Criticism to this solution include the points that the solvents that are used are toxic and not good for the environment. In addition, it would be very difficult to scale up. Opponents do not believe it is a viable solution to the plastic waste challenge.

The Polymers Technology Center, with their connection to The Polymers Center, helps companies with polymers testing and production. We can assist your company with the development of new plastic materials and products. And through our compounding capabilities, can produce the material you need in lab, pilot, or truckload scale. Contact us to learn more.