Students Crack a Hard Nut, Turn Plastic into Fuel
A team of students at Velammal Engineering College has discovered a method of producing quality petrol from one of the most problematic pollutants of modern times - non-biodegradable plastic. A final year project led mechanical engineering students Sridhar, Jaikar Sathish, V. Lakshmanan and Guru Prasad through several experiments with a `secret catalyst' that prevented plastic from melting into a mass when heated, and instead generated petroleum products - petrol, diesel and kerosene. Waste polythene and polypropylene - consisting mainly of discarded bags and biomedical waste - are subjected to `catalytic cracking' or breaking down the carbon chain. The correct ratio of the catalyst and the plastic materials are taken in the reaction flask to get greater yield. When heated at 400 degrees Celsius, the plastic yields a distillate crude. Fractional re-distillation yields a type of petrol at between 100 to 120 degrees C and kerosene at between 150 to 180 degree C. Finally, the process leaves diesel as residue. In about two hours, the students were able to generate around 2 litres of crude from 2.5 kg of plastic waste and through distillation one litre of petrol and half a litre each of kerosene and diesel. The cost works out to roughly Rs. 22 for petrol and Rs. 26 each for diesel and kerosene. Sridhar says by heating plastic in the absence of oxygen, toxic dioxin emissions are also avoided, making the fuel eco-friendly. Even the left over paraffin mass (approximately 500 gm) can be made into candles. The fuel, developed by the team, has been certified by the Indian Oil Corporation's Regional Laboratory at Korukkupet. Compared to regular petrol, this plastic-derived fuel has a marginally higher octane level; pollution emission was within stipulated limits. Sridhar says the fuel's mileage could be higher than the 40 km per litre he got on his 20-year-old scooter. The students have already obtained a patent for the process and have applied for a full patent. The Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) has agreed to quality test the products. The students were guided in their project by the College Principal C. Rathnasabapathy, and professors, D. Sivaraj and K. R. Senthil Kumar.
Orignial source: The Hindu, March 19, 2005
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