The issue of waste plastics is vast, which is why the EU has set an objective to send zero plastics to landfill by 2020.
It is a subject which is not often in the headlines, but one which many companies need to get to grips with rapidly.
The media focus in this debate has traditionally emphasised the role of the consumer and household recycling, such as how councils can encourage residents to increase the amount they recycle and how the behaviour of individuals can help to meet overall waste reduction targets.
But many manufacturers, by their very nature, produce millions of tonnes of waste plastic each year. Take a company that bottles drinks or produces plastic food packaging. At present, to ensure these plastics are recycled and do not inadvertently end up in landfill or be simply dumped, the manufacturer will have to invest.
This investment is needed for two reasons: to ensure the decontamination of the waste plastics, and to separate plastics into the types and grades for them to be recycled. But often the investment required in labour, time and separation techniques to recycle materials can have a negative effect on the economics of a business if small volumes and heavy contamination persist over time.
Cynar’s technology takes this problematic type of waste and turns it into something of real economic and social value: clean alternative fuel. Unlike sending plastics for recycling, this advanced conversion technology can process a mixture of unseparated and potentially contaminated plastics.
The process also ensures that everything is used. This means it reduces the quantity of plastic waste sent to landfill, reduces the need for costly disposal options and offers an environmentally friendly, profitable and usable alternative for waste plastics.
A Cynar plant can convert up to 20 tonnes of waste each day into approximately 19,500 litres of diesel – enough to fill up 39 haulage trucks. The diesel created, called CynDiesel, is a high-cetane, low-sulphur, clean burning fuel that requires no additional refining or end-use modification. It has the performance and quality of conventional diesel as well as a significantly lower carbon footprint.
So how do we do it? Suitable end-of-life plastics are pre-processed to reduce their size and remove any contaminants or non-plastic materials to create the feedstock. This is then loaded into hot pyrolysis chambers and agitated to even out the temperature and homogenise the feedstock.
Pyrolysis turns the plastic into a vapour. This passes into the contactor, which knocks back the long-chained carbons and allows the required condensable vapours to pass into the distillation column.
The condensable vapours are distilled into lite oil (Cynlite) and raw diesel. The lite oil is put into storage and can be used in an engine. The raw diesel is passed to a vacuum distillation column to be further refined to produce diesel and kerosene. The distillates then pass into the recovery tanks.
Cynar’s first step towards making the technology a commercial reality was to successfully establish a demonstration plant in Portlaoise, Irish Republic, in 2008. This enabled the technology to be proved at scale with the help of independent assessment from Foster Wheeler, the engineering and construction contractor and power equipment supplier.
Success in proving the technology has led to the company making strategic partnerships with international customers for whom it will be opening plants in Spain, Portugal and South America within the next 12 months. For example, a plant in Almeria, Spain, is due to start operations in October. This will help to provide a solution for the vast amount of plastic waste generated by the region’s huge greenhouse industry.
Sustainability and environmental protection are two issues that are very close to my heart and we, as a company, genuinely do have a desire to better our planet.
Michael Murray is founder and chief executive of Cynar