The New York Times reports that a startup company, Envion, is opening a $5 million plant that it says will annually convert 6,000 tons of plastic into nearly a million barrels of something resembling oil. The product can be blended with other components and sold as gasoline or diesel. This process will convert waste into fuel for about $10 a barrel, according to Michael Han, chairman and chief executive of the company. Montgomery County, just north of Washington, D.C., apparently agrees, at least to the extent that it is giving Mr. Han a free supply of plastic and a spot at its waste transfer station to set up shop. At the site bales of plastics wait to be shredded and fed into the company’s machines, including planters, McDonald’s large-sized beverage cups, margarine containers and other materials typical of what suburban residents throw out in the trash each week. The machine will process everything except PET because those products have a higher recycled value. The finished product looks like a slightly murky lemonade and smells somewhere between gasoline and diesel fuel. One company has already agreed to buy the material for blending into motor fuel, and the company is in discussion with others. Envion would like to license its technology for use around the world. The plant consists of a two-story-high chemical reactor festooned with internal agitators and heating elements that give off infrared energy. They also limit the amount of oxygen. Because the process is driven by electricity and not with an open flame, the temperature can be tightly controlled, so most of the material — about 82 percent, and according to the company — becomes liquid fuel. Company executives predict they will have to shut down to clean out the leftover sludge two to four times a year. The sludge can be burned for energy too, but it has much lower value. Production depends on the plastic used as feedstock, but each ton of waste will produce 3 to 5 barrels of product, according to Envion.
Producing a barrel consumes between 59 and 98 kilowatt-hours — two or three days’ worth of electricity for a typical house.