Tuesday, October 07, 2014

A New Plastics-to-Oil Operation - In Syria?

I written in the past 1, 2 about "Plastics-to-Oil" (PTO), the process for anaerobic pyrolysis of plastics which ends up creating a sweet, crude oil. There are a few smallish operations here in the US but at this point in time, it does not play a critical role in our economy. And with gas prices continuing to fall (I saw $2.99/gallon yesterday for the first time in about 5 years!), that won't change soon.

But is Syria, the story is different. There, all fuels are at a premium and so PTO suddenly becomes a life changer. One crude operation is run by Abu Talal:
"'We get plastic materials from areas and buildings that are deserted after being shelled by the regime forces. We collect all the plastic we find, such as water tanks and drainage pipes.' After Talal and his team gather the plastic, they cut it into smaller pieces and put 50 kilograms in each barrel, along with 20 meters of piping to cool the water that runs in and out of the barrel. They contain narrower tubes, which contain the fumes that come from the burned plastic. Then they light a fire. 'It takes two to three hours to extract as much as possible from one batch of plastic,' he says. 'In the last stage, we get the temperature to 100 to 115 degrees to extract a kind of diesel. The temperature must be accurate for the diesel to come out and for it to burn well, so it can be used in cars and motorcycles.' "
This is not exactly how PTO is run on a larger scale. Rather than inserting an inert gas, the air in their reactor must be displaced over time as the plastic starts to degrade, forming near-anaerobic conditions. Also, PTO is typically run at much higher temperatures (800 oF or so), but regardless of these details, the system still works well enough. And it serves as a reminder of how creative people can become during desperate times.

Previous Years

October 7, 2013 - 1000 Posts

October 7, 2010 - The Strange History of Bubble Wrap


Anonymous said...

I wonder if the fact this works is because they're using the old-style diesel engines that were able to run on all sorts of random things including suspensions of milk powder and coal dust.

John said...

It could be. But also keep in mind that their feedstock is probably pretty much straight hydrocarbons (PE, PP, PS) with maybe some oxygenated polymer such as PET. (No PVC allowed!) You'd end up with a pretty pure hydrocarbon output then too.