Innovation That Matters

Generator turns plastic bottles back into oil

Like a modern-day alchemist, Washington, DC-based Envion has developed a system to produce oil from waste plastic. Considering that the price of crude oil is once again on the rise, that’s not unlike turning rocks into gold. Envion, founded in 2004, is keeping the lid on the details of its proprietary technology, but does reveal that it involves extracting the hydrocarbons from plastic, and that low temperature thermal cracking in a vacuum is part of the process. According to the company’s website, the Envion Oil Generator is both efficient and environmentally sensitive, producing a net gain in energy recaptured, with vent gas generating electricity to drive the unit. The machine accepts most types of waste plastic, without the need for pre-sorting or cleaning, and is able to handle plastic currently sitting in landfill sites. Given that in the US only 4% of the 48 million tons of plastic waste produced every year gets recycled, there’s plenty of raw material for Envion to work with. The company claims that a single oil generator can convert 10,000 tons of plastic into more than 50,000 barrels of oil a year, at a cost of USD 17 per ton. Given the cost of the alternatives—landfill at USD 70–200 per ton, and recycling at USD 50–150 per ton—Envion looks set to clean up. Envion is also developing an application of the technology to convert car tires into oil. Although some will challenge that more oil consumption is not what the planet needs, Envion has come up with a commercially attractive solution to the problem of plastic waste, which should appeal to local authorities for whom waste management is an increasing struggle. Spotted by: Seth Berger



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