“India produces approximately 15,000 tonnes of plastic waste in a day. Centralised systems for plastic waste management cannot work to effectively deal with this much plastic waste on a daily basis”, said a team of researchers at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Madras to DNA. The researchers have now developed a solar-powered system to convert non-recyclable plastic into fuel.
The technology can process plastic into fuel that can substitute diesel used in generators, furnaces and engines. The mobile unit is powered by solar energy and can currently yield around 0.7 litres of fuel oil per kilogramme of plastic.
It uses the technique called pyrolysis. It is a thermochemical treatment that exposes the material to high temperatures in the absence of oxygen, which make way for physical and chemical changes.
This creates a low-density fuel oil by breaking down the polymer chain of plastic at the temperature of 350-500 degrees Celsius.
Ramya Selvaraj, a research student at IIT Madras, told DNA, “We thought that if the plastic can’t come to the industry, let the industry come to the plastic.” He added, “We found that the current plastic waste management systems were not working because of the logistics involved; there were cost and space requirements that could not be met.”
The team showcased its project on the occasion of the World Environment Day, where the theme this year was “Beat Plastic Pollution”. It was hosted by the United Nations (UN) in New Delhi.
The team was led by Divya Priya, assisted by technical guide Professor Indumathi Nambi of IIT Madras, and industrial mentor Sriram Narasimhan of Samridhi Foundation, a Chennai-based NGO.
The IIT Team had won the Zero Carbon Challenge 2018, which included initial funding of Rs 5 lakh for developing the prototype, and another Rs 10 lakh for incubating the idea.
Selvaraj concluded, “We have approached the government and municipal corporations in multiple cities in Tamil Nadu to put up the small recovery units at the material faculty in all the wards for waste collection and management. This can reduce costs involved in transportation, dumping sites and increase the efficiency with which the waste is dealt.”
(Edited by Shruti Singhal)