Desktop-Size Process Turns Plastic into Oil. Cool, but Where's ROI?

Friday, August 27 2010

I'm all for use of "appropriate" technology in developing countries -- and in developed as well, for that matter. For example, low-cost nets or tarps are used to collect dew in arid regions.

I went to the source of the "Man Invents Machine to Convert Plastic into Oil" video that's been making the rounds this week. The video is embedded in an April 2009 article hosted by United Nations University.

According to the article, the device costs ¥950,000 (~$11,230 at current exchange rates). It converts 1 kilo of plastic (~2.2 lbs) into 1 liter of oil (~1 quart) at a cost of about ¥20 ($0.23). Current gasoline prices in the suburban Chicago area is $2.72/gal. Do you see where I'm going?

To pay off the cost of the device, I'd need to generate 4,128 gallons of oil that I could use in my car (I'll talk about the electricity costs in a moment). That translates into approximately 16,515 liters. To generate that number of liters of oil, I'd need 36,332 lbs. of plastic. That's a WHOLE LOT of plastic!

I haven't looked up the local kilowatt price of late, but I'll use a cost of 20 cents instead of 23 cents to process a liter of oil. So I need to add an additional $3,303 processing cost. Hmm.

There's an interesting graphic that breaks down the plastic waste -- amounting to more than 30% of all waste -- in a typical Japanese household. We're probably not so much different here in the U.S. As a matter of fact, I'd guess we're even more wasteful. All in all, the video and the article certainly raised my awareness of waste...but I think I'll just stick to the blue recycling bin for my plastic waste while I trot out kitchen and garden waste to the compost bin in the back yard.

Category: 15 Minutes of Fame; Enigmas, Tough Challenges
Filed under: Energy/Fuel, Waste Reduction