Fuel for thought: how to transform waste plastic
Future of Plastic The scale of plastic pollution is so large that recycling is not enough. We need an eco-friendly waste disposal solution — such as turning unwanted plastic into hydrogen fuel.
Keith Allaun, CEO and Director of PowerHouse Energy Group plc, wants to make one thing very clear. It's not plastic he has an issue with, per se. Plastic is, he says, a life-changing material that has revolutionised agriculture and healthcare, to take just two examples.
The scale of plastic pollution is so large that recycling is not enough. We need another, eco-friendly solution.
Rather it's the management of plastic that is a major problem. “We have to manage it in a more effective way,” he says. “We are seeing significant disruption in marine eco-systems in particular because of the introduction of plastic into the environment.
If we continue to make single-use plastics at the same pace, by 2050 we are going to be dealing with an ocean that has more plastic in it, by weight, than fish.”
Turning plastic waste into fuel
Because the UK doesn't have the capacity to deal with the amount of plastic waste we generate, 500,000 tonnes of it is sent abroad for recycling every year. This is a crazy situation, says Allaun. Firstly, shipping plastic overseas leaves a carbon footprint. Secondly, much of this waste plastic isn't recycled and ends up in the ocean anyway.
Allaun advocates a novel waste-to-energy solution, which turns unwanted plastic into hydrogen that can be used to fuel road transport and , in the future, hydrogen-powered trains and ferries. It's an environmentally-friendly waste management approach that removes waste plastic from the eco-system and helps in the fight against climate change. “By displacing fossil fuels, we save in the region of 21,000Kg of CO2 per tonne of hydrogen created,” says Allaun.
Unwanted plastic is a store of clean, hydrogen fuel
Hydrogen is also environmentally advantageous because there are no tail pipe emissions when using it as a fuel- only water vapor. Waste plastic can be a resource. Plastic is only a waste if we don’t extract the maximum value of that resource and use it responsibly.
Taking waste plastic and turning it into something positive is a compelling model for companies to follow. “We have an obligation to bring some good to this planet and leverage technologies that can responsibly utilise plastic and eliminate it before it reaches the ocean,” says Allaun. “Because once it gets out there, it's too late.”