"It isn’t Waste, It’s Treasure.”

By PSU EcoMerge Capstone - 7:51 PM

Akinori Ito, a Japanese inventor has created a portable machine which converts plastic back into oil. The idea came to him when he began to realize the places he used to play as a child have disappeared from trash pollution, because there is very little space for garbage. There have been other initiatives in Japan for plastic to oil conversion, but the plastics have to be treated, and large scale conversion creates a lot of CO2 emissions. Ito decided to take a different approach. His machine is small, and the user can put their used plastic directly into the machine, it doesn’t have to be shredded, separated, or treated. The plastic goes inside of a drum, then a lid is fastened to the drum. The plastic is heated and gasses that the plastic gives off travel through a tube and is then cooled in a tank of water. As the gas cools it becomes oil, and can be extracted off the top of the water. The oil then can be further processed into gasoline, diesel, or kerosene. According to Ito, the oil can be separated and used in a car, a motorbike, a generator, boiler, or a stove. His machine converts 1 kg of plastic into 1 liter of oil.

Akinori Ito created a company called “Blest Co.” and decided to use his new invention to teach the younger generation. His machine is small enough that he can take it on a plane. He and his team travels to Africa, The Philippines, and The Marshal Islands to teach kids about plastic conversion to oil. They gather garbage from the ground or trashcans and show the children how they can convert plastic into oil. Ito’s company also started the “School Oil Field Caravan”. It looks similar to a food truck, but it is full of conversion equipment. This caravan travels to different schools and Universities in Japan, and other parts of Asia, such as India and Nepal. They encourage the students to gather up their plastic garbage and bring it to the caravan and then do demonstrations on how to convert plastic to oil. Ito says, “People begin to see that this is not garbage, the bottle cap, the lunch container is oil. People don’t know that garbage is oil, that’s why they are throwing it away. If they know it becomes oil, they collect it. They see it isn’t waste, it’s treasure.” Ito believes that the world’s CO2 emissions could be decreased by 80% if the whole world converted their trash back into oil, instead of relying on oil that is transported from far away countries. 

A Canadian company called, Enerkem, is also taking initiative to create oil from garbage on a large scale.  Enerkem was founded by Dr. Esteban Chornet, a former engineer at the U.S. National Renewable Energy Laboratory. Chornet believes that turning waste into fuel has a number of advantages including, potentially being an answer to two pressing problems—diminishing the world's dependence on fossil fuels and an alternative to burying trash in landfills. The 468 million metric tons of trash produced in North America each year could provide 47 billion liters of ethanol—or roughly the same amount as produced from corn, which presently supplies 10 percent of U.S. gasoline demand. Other waste to fuel companies, typically burn their gas directly to produce electricity, this can result in the emissions of toxic chemicals. Enerkem however, turns waste into gas, and then cools it in a similar process Akinori Ito created; their oil is then converted into ethanol. On the business side of things, Chornet believes that producing fuel from garbage is a promising opportunity. Businesses have the potential to make a lot of money, a plant that turns 300 metric tons of raw material per day will produce 36 million liters of ethanol per year. Essentially Enerkem is turning landfills into oil fields. They plan to open more plants at more landfills soon. 

These types of initiatives could be even more profitable if more countries diversified their fuel sources. Brazil gives it’s consumers a choice at the pump between ethanol, methanol, or gasoline, this keeps their fuel prices competitive and lower. As well, they sell a lot more cars that are flex fuel cars which could run off of gasoline, or an ethanol or methanol fuel. 

If the United States diversified our fuel sources, we would see lower gas prices, and smaller landfills, and we wouldn’t have to ship our waste to other countries. This would decrease CO2 emissions greatly, as well, the United States could decrease it’s dependence on other countries for oil; such as the middle eastern countries. The United States also has an abundance of natural gas, so much so that the over-abundance is often flared because it’s not being sold. If the United States diversified their fuel sources, this over-abundance would not be a problem at all. I think creating fuel from plastic and waste, has the potential to solve a variety of pressing problems facing the world today. From keeping plastic out of the oceans, to decreasing the size of landfills, to the rising fuel prices, to the depletion of fossil fuel sources. Waste fuel could solve the oil crises, and our pollution crises. 

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