A single piece of plastic takes hundreds of years to decompose posing a threat to land and water. While it is not feasible to completely stop the manufacturing plastic, repurposing plastic waste can be a solution. Yet, only a fraction of the plastic waste generated is recycled. For instance, India generates close to 5.6 million tonnes of plastic waste annually as per the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) report. Only 20 per cent of it gets recycled. However, Chennai-based Paterson Energy has come up with an innovative solution to the planet’s plastic woes.
The startup converts plastic waste into liquid fuel that is eco-friendly, cheaper and can be used to fuel generators, industrial boilers, and furnaces, among others.
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The start-up was founded by husband-wife duo Vidya and Amarnath Maitreyan in 2016. It has, since then, managed to convert a whopping 150 tonnes of plastic waste into energy-efficient fuel.
“Plastic is a wonderful man-made invention with great functionality and ability to ease modern day packaging dilemma. But how and when this 20th century invention that eased our lives became the Frankenstein monster, is a story in itself. Only valuable plastics are getting recycled and the low value plastic still ends up in landfills and oceans. Paterson Energy tries to bridge this gap by incorporating all kinds of plastic,” Vidya tells The Better India.
There is no denying that plastic is one of the most widely-used materials across the world due to its availability, affordability and durability.
But, due to the alarming non-degradable aspect of plastic, more and more organisations like Paterson Energy are coming up with innovative and effective measures of treating plastic waste scientifically.
The intention behind starting the bootstrapped organisation was to check the reckless disposal and treatment of the toxic material.
The commerce graduates, who run a wealth management company, entered the waste management field in 2012 with the primary objective to spread awareness on waste segregation. Gradually, their work sowed the seed of coming up with better ways to manage plastic waste.
After finding solutions to dispose plastic waste at individual levels, the couple went all out in their research and came across a process that brings plastic back to its original form i.e. crude oil.
In 2012, Vidya approached IIT Madras to work on a tangible solution to mitigate the plastic waste problem.
“We put in several hours of research and development with the assistance of IIT Madras, Central Institute of Plastics Engineering & Technology and design consultations from Engineers India Limited,” says Amarnath.
The company has an ongoing Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Berlin University of Technology for research and development on plastic technologies. Locally, they have signed an MoU with SSN university and Vellore Institute of Technology for research and development purposes.
“Paterson Energy reworked the process technology of an otherwise highly unorganised and nascent process into a state-of-the-art indigenous thermo-chemical depolymerisation that processes all kinds of polymer waste,” she adds.
Here’s how Plastic-To-Fuel Technology Works
The startup uses the thermo-chemical depolymerisation process which is essentially decomposition or degradation of plastic materials at very high temperatures (up to 500 degree celsius) in the absence of oxygen. The technology is actually used for decomposing shredded tyres. The couple modified it to use plastic waste.
“In simple terms, waste plastic is heated at very high temperatures in the absence of oxygen and is turned into vapor which is then cooled and condensed into Pyro oil (also known as biocrude) which is a safer alternative to petroleum,” explains Vidya.
- The plastic waste is fed into a shredding machine that crushes plastic into tiny pieces. From there, the pieces are deposited in the pyrolysis reactor via an airlock feeding system.
- Thereafter, the pyrolysis reactor converts the polymer waste into pyrolysis oil, hydrocarbon gas and carbon black powder.
- The gases released are captured in a balloon and reintroduced into the process as heating agents, thereby making the process energy-efficient and completely emission-free.
- The only other by-product of the process is a powdered form of carbon, which is collected separately and used by the paint and cement industry.
- “Pyrolysis oil or light distillate oil can be used as an alternative to conventional fuels, in any factory setup where heat and electricity needs to be generated. Pyrolysis process works as a sustainable waste-to-energy technology with an ability to handle most kinds of plastic waste including single-use plastics,” says Amarnath.
The entire process is eco-friendly as there is zero discharge or zero effluents on completion. As for the cost, the pyro oil is cheaper by 25 per cent than conventional ones, thus making it a cost-effective solution for organisations.
One tonne of plastic waste can produce up to 500 litres of oil and the process takes 8 hours for initial heating and the first batch of oil to be derived. However, the output largely depends on the quality and homogeneity of the feedstock.
Entering the Market
Entering the waste management market and convincing people that plastic waste can be useful, was not easy for the Chennai couple when they started out.
“It was a scenario where there is plenty of water but none that is drinkable. Companies were reluctant to part with their plastic waste as they had parallel revenue streams through plastic waste disposals. Whereas, some companies were initially hesitant to use pyrolysis oil as they were not open to experimenting,” shares Vidya.
The couple ran from pillar to post to get credibility for their product through multiple laboratory testings. They started submitting reports on the oil parameters and its benefits to companies and eventually got them on board.
Today, three years since its inception, the company is in the process of developing a varied client base that uses pyrolysis oil. Companies like V K fasteners private limited, Ashok Leyland Technical Centre (Chennai) and hotels like The Leela Palace Chennai and Hilton Chennai, TVS motors have all tested the oil at their facilities.
The first waste-to-fuel plant came up in Chennai two years before the company was officially registered. The plant can convert up to 6 tonnes of plastic per day into high grade diesel.
Last year, the company started the installation of a waste-to-fuel plant in collaboration with the Uttar Pradesh Government in Mathura.
The Mathura Municipal Corporation will provide the plastic waste generated in the city to the Paterson Energy. The plant, which will begin its operations soon, has the capacity to convert six tonne of plastic waste into diesel.
The couple also started another initiative two years ago called ‘Bin-Go’ for Chennai residents. It offers a dry waste collection pick up service. People can place a request on their website and the company will pick up the waste. The company is now working toward increasing the number of waste-to-fuel plants across India and enhance the number of plastic waste that gets converted into fuel.
They intend to offer their technologies to government and corporates to set up plants all over the country and abroad.
“Our technology is committed in bringing back plastic to its original form i.e.crude oil. We are different from recyclers. Our intention is to generate a circular economy,” signs off the duo.
(Edited by Saiqua Sultan)
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