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What is the Environmental Impact of Thermal Depolymerization?

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Emily Newton's picture
Editor-In-Chief Revolutionized Magazine

Emily Newton is the Editor-in-Chief at Revolutionized Magazine. She enjoys writing articles in the energy industry as well as other industrial sectors.

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  • Sep 9, 2022
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Thermal depolymerization could be the key to providing the world with fuel while resolving the global waste problem. The process has been around for decades, but the technology may be more important today than ever before. New energy solutions are needed as the planet’s fossil fuel supplies inevitably diminish. At the same time, plastic waste is one of the most pressing environmental concerns in the world. 

Could thermal depolymerization solve both challenges? It may be possible. Here’s a look at the environmental impact of thermal depolymerization, from plastic waste to public health. 

A Waste Reduction Solution

The first and most obvious impact of thermal depolymerization is a significant reduction in plastic waste, which is building up by the tons in landfills and waterways. Regardless of any other pros or cons, implementation inevitably reduces plastic waste. The process uses intense heat and pressure to convert plastic polymers into monomers, specifically the hydrocarbons needed for crude oil products. 

A Large-Scale Impact

If thermal depolymerization were used to make oil on a large scale, the planet’s plastic waste heaps would provide a free, massive supply to work with. According to the United Nations, the world has generated an estimated 7 billion metric tons of plastic pollution, only 10% of which has been recycled. It causes serious public health issues worldwide, both for nature and humans. 

Preserving ocean wildlife relies on reducing the amount of pollution in the world’s waterways. However, an estimated 11 million metric tons of plastic waste enter the oceans annually. This also pollutes sources that provide drinking water to humans and pollutes ocean food supplies with microplastics.  

Recycling and switching to plastic alternatives may reduce the amount of waste produced in the future. However, the world needs a solution for the existing plastic pollution that’s already out there. Thermal depolymerization is a clear answer to the problem. With so much plastic waste readily available, thermal depolymerization oil would be relatively inexpensive, especially compared to the costs of conventional drilling. 

Emptying the Landfills

Additionally, thermal depolymerization could significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions over the long term. Landfills are estimated to generate 16.8% of U.S. methane emissions every year. Methane is 25 times more potent than CO2 in terms of atmospheric heating. Reducing the size and scale of plastic landfills worldwide using thermal depolymerization could have a massive positive impact. 

Transforming the Oil and Gas Industry

Drilling for fossil fuels may not be related to plastic pollution, but the oil produced through thermal depolymerization could have a massive impact on the demand for fossil fuels. Thermal depolymerization is essentially just a high-speed version of the same process that created fossil fuels, only it uses plastic waste as the source material.

There would be significantly less need for nations to import fuel from other nations if this process was used on a large scale. Every country could simply create its own using locally collected plastic waste. This increases energy independence but could also put a significant dent in emissions. 

Transforming Transportation

In this scenario, the trucks, tankers and barges used to transport oil worldwide would be in much less use and demand. That alone would reduce transportation emissions, which are estimated to account for 21% of global CO2 output. That, coupled with the emissions reduction from diminishing landfills, could create a snowball effect of drops over time. 

It is worth noting that the thermal depolymerization process itself can be clean and free of emissions. Japanese company Blest has developed a portable machine that converts raw, whole pieces of plastic waste into oil without burning any CO2 in the process. According to a UN interview with Blest Corp. CEO Akinori Ito, it could potentially cut CO2 emissions by 80% or more. 

Unlike EVs, which have their own merits, using fuel from clean thermal depolymerization requires no change in gas station infrastructure. In fact, researchers at Swansea University in the U.K. have even developed a method of converting plastic waste into hydrogen fuel, which emits virtually no greenhouse gases. This would add another clean alternative fuel for the transportation industry while reducing plastic pollution. Thermal depolymerization remains the most widely accessible, thanks to developments like those at Blest with its portable thermal depolymerization machine. 

The oil and gas industry accounts for 42% of global emissions, both directly and indirectly. If thermal depolymerization truly could lead to an 80% decrease in those emissions, it could revolutionize the fight to halt climate change. 

Improving Global Fuel Access

Another benefit of thermal depolymerization for the environment is less obvious. Blest has prioritized bringing its portable thermal depolymerization machines to communities in developing countries so the people there can reduce plastic waste in their neighborhoods and create their own fuel. This improves global access to fuel, which could have a surprisingly significant impact on public health.

Air pollution is responsible for an estimated 7 million premature deaths every year, according to studies by the World Health Organization. Many of those are due to long-term exposure to indoor air pollution, particularly in developing countries where wood-burning fires are still used indoors for cooking and heat. These flames create smoke and fumes that can ultimately lead to disease or even death once dangerous levels of exposure are reached. 

Portable thermal depolymerization machines allow people in developing countries to create their own liquid fuel to power gas stoves and heating. This would reduce air pollution and help resolve a serious public health issue. Plus, it would remove plastic pollution from the environment in all countries. 

Thermal Depolymerization: The Key to Fuel Challenges

Thermal depolymerization has the power to transform fuel, emissions and public health. It could remove millions of tons of plastic waste from the environment and significantly reduce carbon and methane emissions worldwide. Portable thermal depolymerization machines could broaden fuel access and reduce air pollution, potentially saving millions of lives. 

Implementing thermal depolymerization on a global scale is the smart move for cheap fuel and the right thing to do for people and the planet

Discussions
Rick Engebretson's picture
Rick Engebretson on Sep 10, 2022

I like how this article covers many serious challenges ahead, offers an idea for solution, and isn't a political hit. Very positive.

Just to offer supplemental references, the old standby solarpaces.org covers concentrated solar high temperature chemistry

https://www.solarpaces.org/

And another standby, wikipedia, also has a lot of good "gasification" info

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gasification

With all the challenges facing younger generations, some discussed here, it's hard to find such constructive young voices that ignore the 80 something years old, half dead political leadership. Thanks, and good luck.

 

 

Emily Newton's picture
Thank Emily for the Post!
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