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  • Plastic-to-petrol formula works, says Indian Oil Corporation

    A process invented by an Indian couple to convert one of the world’s most polluting objects into its most sought after commodity, has been validated. The results of 11 experiments conducted at the Indian Oil Corporation’s (IOC) R&D centre, at Faridabad in Uttar Pradesh, between July 1-10, 2003, have proved that the plastic-to-petrol process invented by Umesh and Alka Zadgaonkar does indeed work.

    The invention yields 40-60% liquid petroleum from a kilogram of waste plastic, which may include polyvinyl chlorides, the commonly-used polythene bag, broken buckets or PET bottles. The production cost is a mere Rs 7 per litre.

    The outcome of the experiments is of some significance for India, which produces 7,000 tonnes of waste plastic every day.

    Put simply, the Maharashtra-based couple’s formula involves heating shredded plastic waste, which is free of oxygen, using coal and a secret chemical. The products thus formulated include 80% fuel range liquids, 5% coke and 15% LPG range gases. One kilo of plastic and 100 gm of coal churn out one litre of fuel, which contains the gasoline range. More processing, and Alka claims it yields refined petrol.

    The Zadgaonkars’ invention was first reported in the media in June 2003. The couple refused to sell their invention to foreign companies, saying that they trusted the IOC. Alka is head of the department of applied chemistry at Nagpur’s Raisoni College of Engineering and already holds two Indian patents.

    “We can use any waste plastic recycled any number of times,” says Alka, whose patent application has been published by the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO). However, it may be a while before the process yields petrol and diesel for commercial use.

    An IOC official maintains that while the fractionation yielded ready-to-use industrial furnace oil, production of gasoline required stabilisation additives and, in the case of petrol, the cetane number would have to be increased. A low cetane number causes ignition trouble, hampering the smooth running of an engine.

    While the Zadgaonkars invented the process and the catalyst that breaks long hydrocarbon chains of plastic into smaller segments of petroleum products, the IOC helped improve the liquid quality by minimising the diene content and lowering the high chlorine content.

    To further develop the technology, the state-run Oil Industry Development Board will be asked to fund a Rs 7.86 crore demonstration plant at Nagpur, where the Zadgaonkars live.

    “In the current scenario, plastic waste disposal is a ‘cost centre’. The development of a useful technology can lead to the setting up of a commercial plant that can convert waste plastic management into a ‘profit centre’,” says an IOC source.

    The five-tonne-per-day pilot plant will be set up to implement product quality, study the effects of feed variation, establish possible outlets for the output, optimise process conditions and generate reliable design data for using municipal waste. “It is not an alternative commercial source for fuel but a proposition to address the emerging concern about utilising waste plastic and keeping the environment clean,” says the official.


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