Plastic pollution is growing at an alarming rate, with more than 320 million metric tons of new plastic produced every year. Current estimates predict that plastic will outweigh all the fish in the oceans by 2050.
Though plastic is recyclable, the process takes time and manpower. Manufacturers often prefer to just create new plastic versus using recycled items since costs are lower.
“Due to growing awareness about plastic waste, leading manufacturers and other corporations are setting zero landfill targets, meaning nothing generated within the facility can go to a landfill. But if it doesn’t go to the landfill, where does it go?” says Jessica Findley. “We’re in the middle of a worldwide recycling crisis.”
So what if you could take the burden away from the overwhelmed recycling company by turning that used plastic into fuel?
That’s the thought behind Neowaste‘s patented waste-to-fuel ‘Polycrack Technology’.
“Through a catalytic conversion process, we’re essentially converting plastic waste back into its original components,” explains CEO Findley. For example, in an automobile, the catalytic converter converts toxic pollutants into less harmful emissions that exit through the car’s exhaust system.
“We’re doing the reverse process and converting it back into oil, and then distilling it to produce low-sulfur diesel fuel. People think of us as a mini-refinery,” she says.
Neowaste’s technology can produce 260 gallons of fuel from one ton of plastic. To put that into perspective, there’s currently a ‘plastic floating island’ between California and Hawaii that contains nearly 80,000 tons of plastic.
Neowaste’s plant first transitions plastic into a molten liquid state and then vaporizes it. The vapors go through the catalytic converter and come in contact with their patented catalyst — the most unique part of their technology, says Findley.
A molecular process produces fuel from the vapors. The gases that can’t be condensed are stored in a tank and reused to power the whole process.
Findley has nearly a decade of experience in the waste-to-fuel market, previously working at a tire recycling company. While looking for new ways to use tire scraps, she came across the Polytrack technology, licensed out of India, and joined a multinational company to bring the tech on board.
Last year, Findley began to see the growing need for waste disposal among plastics manufacturers and split off the company to create the Alabama-based Neowaste. Findley is joined by two other co-founders, CTO and patent-holder T.R. Rao and COO Fernando Valentin.
“We’re not limited to plastic. The catalyst can take any type of waste that has hydrogen and carbon. We’ve produced the most fuel out of plastic because that’s the highest hydrogen and carbon content, but we can process municipal solid waste,” she says.
The process isn’t limited by the constraints of typical manufacturing — no sorting is required, and including glass and metal with the processed materials doesn’t harm the outcome. Most recycling companies can’t handle the separation or processing of blended materials.
Neowaste’s initial commercial-scale operation will focus exclusively on plastic generated by car manufacturers and the suppliers that serve them. They’ll eventually expand into additional industries to address the global waste market.
They have an agreement upcoming with a large oil company to purchase their fuel. They’re also serving one of the largest recycling companies in Florida, which recently opened a facility in Alabama, to start recycling waste streams.
The startup gets paid a ‘tipping fee’ on the front end — an industry term for waste disposal fees and cost per ton. In one year, Neowaste can generate 2 million gallons of fuel from one of their standard systems.
“With our model, even if we had to pay for the waste, we still have really low production costs on our fuel that make us competitive with traditional fuel. It’s cheaper to use our fuel than it is to get it on the pipeline and it comes out a better quality because of our low sulfur content,” says Findley.
The team, who just won $100K in the Alabama Launchpad competition, will be keeping their head down and focusing on their first commercial pilot plant in Birmingham that will process around 25 tons of plastic per day. That equals 6,000 gallons of fuel produced a day.
The pilot plant, slated to open by January 2019, will help the startup “provide a visual for potential investors and partners, and get as many data points to acquire insurance that will reduce the risk for potential lenders and investors,” says Findley.
Featured image via iStock