‘Reduce, reuse, recycle’ are watch-words of the decade, and everyone is becoming increasingly focused on ways in which we can reduce our impact on the environment. As part of this drive to clean up our act and leave a healthier planet for future generations, research is currently underway to investigate whether a fuel derived from mixed and recycled plastic regrinds could be employed as an alternative to the oil- and diesel-based fuels currently in use in marine and industrial engines.
The fuel, Plaxx, is being co-developed by Recycling Technologies and Bristol Robotics Laboratory (BRL) and will be funded by the ESPRC and Innovate UK. Numerous other backers have come on board, including Swindon Borough Council and an international insurer of marine vessels.
Plaxx is produced via the process of depolymerising plastic, resulting in a mix of hydrocarbon-based monomers very similar to that found in crude oil. In contrast to crude oil variants, however, Plaxx is very low in organic and inorganic contaminants, and other pollutants such as sulphur.
The research, led by Professor Farid Dailami at the BRL, seeks to determine whether or not Plaxx would be an efficient substitute for heavy fuel oil diesel engines such as those commonly seen in ferries, tankers and other marine plant. The concern of the researchers is that Plaxx could increase the degree of engine wear in comparison with regular crude-derived diesel.
An entire segment of the industry will be watching the research with baited breath. As with crude oil, Plaxx’s hydrocarbon base allows it to be refined further, making it possible to use Plaxx as an input in plastics manufacturing industries. Packaging manufacturers, waste treatment firms and local authorities could all benefit from the long-term applications of Plaxx. The net effect would be to generate a usable resource from plastic waste which currently cannot efficiently be subjected to mechanical plastic recycling techniques.
This is a particularly serious concern as, at present, the majority of plastic waste entering the municipal, industrial and commercial waste treatment streams is mixed, contaminated or laminated. This is where the Plaxx depolymerisation technique could achieve what conventional techniques for plastic recycling cannot.
Professor Dailami’s research will reportedly focus on the testing of engine wear, engine performance and exhaust emissions of a variety of different engines using Plaxx fuel. A range of test conditions will be implemented to ensure a controlled test environment. The secondary focus of the research will be on the development of software-based tools to record these engine factors and to assist early adopters in achieving optimal performance with Plaxx.
Heavy fuel oil, the form of diesel currently in use on marine vessels, needs to be extracted from the ground and refined with a series of industrial processes, resulting in a substantial environmental cost with serious consequences over time. Unlike the diesel used in cars, heavy fuel oil is the residue left behind after crude oil has been refined into car diesel, petrol and so forth.
By contrast Plaxx, Professor Dailami believes, will prove to be very low in sulphur, and is itself produced from an industrial waste product which would otherwise be incinerated or be sent to landfill. Whether Plaxx will lower the cost of waste management and benefit the plastic recycling industry, in the long run, only time will tell.
Image source recyclingtechnologies.co.uk