Plastic to Oil
Prof [Mrs] Alka Zadgaonkar
Head of the Dept.- Applied Chemistry,
G H Raisoni College of Engineering, Nagpur - 440016
Phones: Home:  2220111; Mobile: 093701-20111 [Umesh
email: [email protected]; [email protected]
A Wand that Converts Plastic Waste to Fuel
New Delhi Jan 31: The magic wand to convert the world's most
daunting environmental problem of plastic waste into its most
precious commodity, fossil fuels including diesel and petrol, is
being wielded by a low profile woman scientist in India's
western state of Maharashtra.
Alka Zadgaonkar, who lives and works as an applied chemistry
professor in the central Indian town of Nagpur, began to work
her magic almost two years ago.
A zero-pollution industrial process to convert
non-biodegradable - and mostly non-recyclable - plastic waste
into liquid hydrocarbons is quietly underway in the Butibori
industrial estate, 25 km from Alka's home in Nagpur, the
absolute central point of the country.
The Zadgaonkars' Unique Waste Plastic Management & Research
Company plant devours a whole range of plastic waste -- from
discarded carry bags to mineral water bottles and broken buckets
to PVC pipes, polyethylene eriophthalate (PET) bottles, even ABS
(acrylonitrile butadine sterine) plastic material used in the
making of computer monitors and TV sets, keyboards et al -- and
converts it 100 percent into liquid hydrocarbon fuels (85
percent) and gases (15 percent).
The Indian Oil Corporation (IOC) has recommended use of the
Zadgaonkar liquid fuels in running agriculture pumps and
boilers, as marine fuel and input feed for petro refineries, and
the gaseous fuels as an in-house and industrial substitute for
The world's first and so far the only continuous process
industrial plant in Butibori has caught the eye of the
scientific community and begun to beckon entrepreneurs to
approach its close-fisted promoter with buy-up or tie-up offers.
While this happens, the inventor continues to go about her
modest Indian urban middle-class routine of cooking food for her
family every morning and evening and teaching at the Raisoni
Engineering College during the day.
"Invention of the process was the greatest reward of my life;
why should I change my lifestyle?" asks Professor Alka
Zadgaonkar, who is in her 40s, while serving her in-laws a meal.
Husband Umesh offers the next bit of information - Alka is now
concentrating on a method of producing solid fuel (similar to
coal) from biodegradable solid waste in 24 hours flat. But the
world might have to wait a while for the next revolution to
What's in the immediate offing at the plant is the upscaling of
its production capacity from 10,000 to 25,000 litres of liquid
hydrocarbons per day and addition of a unit to convert the 15
percent gaseous output into electricity.
Though the small scale industrial unit has an installed
capacity to consume only 25 metric tonnes (MT) of plastic waste
- present consumption is 10 MT a day - that would still leave
more than 50 MT of the non-biodegradable hazard to the Nagpur
Municipal Corporation (NMC) to dispose of.
Clearly, the proven industrial process if replicated on a macro
scale holds great promise for the country and the world at
India's Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) estimates
municipal solid waste (MSW) generation in the country to
increase from the present 130,000 MT per day to a whopping
821,000 MT by 2047. The estimated requirement of land for its
disposal would be 169.9 sq km by then, as against 20.2 sq km in
The proportion of non-biodegradable plastic waste in the MSW,
which increased from 0.69 percent in 1971-73 to 7 percent in
2003, is growing exponentially.
The scenario in the most industrially developed countries is
even more frightening. In Los Angeles, 90 percent of the
underground space allocated for landfills has already been
occupied. Indeed, the Environmental Protection Agency, UK, has
found as much as 65 percent increase in the generation of waste
plastic litter globally from 1997 to 2005.
Given the limits of plastic recycling (output degrades after
each cycle) coupled with the fact that incineration is highly
expensive and can be hazardous, emitting toxic gases if not done
properly, and in view of the future energy crunch, Alka decided
to try for herself what several polymer scientists in the world
are already experimenting with - conversion of plastic to
Setting up an apparatus consisting of a cylindrical stainless
steel vessel, a condensing system, a receiving flask and an
outlet vent apart from a pressure gauge and a timer, Alka
started experimenting with the idea way back in 1995 and saw the
first signs of success only after four years of nerve-wracking
The method comprised regulated anaerobic heating of a mixture
of plastic waste (90 percent) and coal (10 percent) in the
presence of a catalyst.
With word spreading across an incredulous scientific community,
Alka began to receive invitations to attend seminars and give
presentations. India's scientist President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam,
hearing about the encomiums showered on the inventor at a
national seminar invited her to a conference in 2003.
He then pushed the Department of Science of Technology (DST)
and the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas to verify Alka's
claims. Top scientists of the IOC's R&D wing had her
conversion process test-demonstrated repeatedly under different
conditions before handing down a favourable certification.
But what had already clinched the issue in favour of the Indian
scientist was a positive search report and subsequent
publication of her patent application by the Geneva based World
Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO). The prestigious John
Willey Publications, UK, devoted one whole chapter to her
invention in their latest World Polymer Series, which is
considered as the highest mark of authenticity.
The only scientist from India to attend the Global Plastic
Environmental Conference (GPEC) - 2004 at Detroit, US, on a
special invitation, Alka has been approached by the Japanese oil
giant Izemitsu, the US Applied Science Inc. and Germany's Marlos
Thormann Energy Solutions with tie-up offers.
However, Alka and her husband are keen to keep commercial
interests within India and retain control over the industrial
application of her invention.
Back home, industrial giant Reliance Industries has shown
interest and sent two senior officers to Butibori.
Discussions for a large scale plant with global engineering
consultants Mott- Macdonald and Dalal Engineering Consultants
are on as well.
Zadgaonkar's Unique Waste Plastic Management & Research
Company is running on a liberal loan from the state-run State
Bank of India.
"We receive an uninterrupted supply of raw material and sell
the fuel in bulk to an agent who supplies it to small industrial
units in the region," says Umesh Zadgaonkar.
Citing statistics of crude oil consumption of 115 million MT
per annum in India, 80 percent of which has to be imported at
the rate of $60 per barrel and pointing out that one litre of
crude oil yields only 600 ml of hydrocarbon fuel, Umesh says
plastic waste converted into liquid hydrocarbons in his plant
without emitting any pollutants would be a cheaper partial
substitute. It would also take care of hazardous plastic waste.
Coupled with the bio-diesel revolution, the
plastic-waste-to-fuel process can prove to be a double-boon for
This is an idea whose time has come.
[ PDF ]
A CATALYST COMPOSITION FOR CATALYTIC CRACKING OF WASTE
Inventor: ZADGAONKAR UMESH, et al.
Classification: - international: B01J29/06; B01J29/08;
B01J37/00; C10G1/00; C10G1/10; B01J29/00; B01J37/00; C10G1/00;
(IPC1-7): B01J29/06; B01J29/08; C10G1/00; C10G1/10;- European:
B01J29/08; B01J29/08Y; B01J29/08Z2; B01J37/00B4C; C10G1/08;
Cited documents: US6114267 // US5443716 // US5744668
Abstract --- The present invention relates to a process of
preparing a catalytic cracking catalyst comprising: - mixing the
following ingredients in the proportion indicated there against
faujasite zeolite - 5-35 wt %; pseudoboehmite alumina - 10-40 wt
%; polyammonium silicate - 1-10 wt %; kaolin clay - 15-60wt %; -
milling said ingredients and making a slurry using water, -
spray drying said slurry to micro-spheres, and - calcining said
micro-spheres at 500°C for 1 hour to obtain the catalyst.
[ PDF ]
A PROCESS AND APPARATUS FOR MANUFACTURE OF LIQUID FUEL FROM
WASTE PLASTIC AND REFINERY WASTE
Inventor: ZADGAONKAR UMESH ARUN; ZADGAONKAR ALKA UMESH
Classification: - international: C10G1/10; C10G1/00; (IPC1-7):
C10G1/10; C10B53/00; C10G1/02;- European: C10G1/10
Cited documents: US5584969 // XP002189916 // CN1236804
Abstract --- An improved apparatus consisting of a cylindrical
rectangular a coking vessel (1) heated by electrical heating
coils or any other form of energy said vessel is made from
stainless steel or mild steel and surrounded by heat reflector
and insulator to avoid heat loss and to achieve maximum heating
inside locked at the top (2) with temperature sensor which
extended upto the center of the vessel; the other end protruding
outside is connected to a controlled unit by means of wiring;
said lid is provided with high temperature gasket for locking by
means of lock and bolt; said coking vessel is provided at its
side an outlet vent to correct condensing section/condenser (10)
the other end of the condenser is connected to the receiving
section; said condenser is provided with outer jacket for
circulating cold water or thermic fluid from the bottom (11) as
and when required for the conversion of gaseous form of product
into liquid state; the said condenser is connected to the
receiving assembly/unit (12) by means of suitable conduit (13)
in tandem with other receiving unit (14) or gasometer (15) and a
outlet vent towards the gas collecting and sealing unit (16)
said receiving unit is maintained at a temperature [-]40 DEG C
to room temperature or higher to collect the distillate in
batches or continuously.
Sunday, September 28, 2003
Converting Plastic Waste into Petrol!
ALKA Zadgaonkar believes in creating something of value even
out of waste. Since last year, she has been demonstrating to
Indian and foreign experts how waste plastic can be converted
into petrol, offering a solution to one of the world’s biggest
environment problems—-waste plastic disposal.
Head of the Department of Organic Chemistry at Nagpur’s G.H.
Raisoni College of Engineering, Zadgaonkar recently signed a
memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the Indian Oil
Corporation (IOC) for manufacturing and marketing petroleum
products generated from waste plastic. She has been given Rs 5.9
million for the pilot project.
How did she hit upon the idea? "Both plastics and
petro-products are hydrocarbons. The only difference is that in
plastics the chain of molecules is longer. So, I wondered if it
was possible to break the chain into small segments to convert
it into value-added fuel. I started working on this idea in 1995
and my first successful experiment was in 1998-99," says
Zadgaonkar’s method is simple: shredded plastic waste - free of
oxygen – is heated with coal and a secret chemical. The products
include fuel range liquids, coke and LPG range gases. About 1 kg
of plastic and 100 gm of coal churn out a litre of fuel, which
contains the gasoline range. More processing, Zadgaonkar claims,
yields refined petrol.
"We can use any waste plastic recycled any number of times,"
says Zadgaonkar. She has received a patent from the World
Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO).
Zadgaonkar’s partner in her quest has been her husband, Umesh,
also a chemical engineer. The couple has demonstrated this
technique in Delhi, Mumbai (in the presence of Chief Minister
Sushilkumar Shinde), and in Pune. They stay in a joint family
with their 14-year-old son. Members of the family sold part of
the family property to support her research.
Zadgaonkar claims almost all plastic products—- bags, Polyvinyl
Chloride (PVC), old raincoats and broken buckets can be
converted into fuel through her processing method. There is also
no problem with residue disposal or emission, as the solid
residue is coke and the gaseous emission is pure LPG, she says.
The quest is significant for India, which produces 7,000 tonnes
of waste plastic every day. Zadgaonkar calculates that even if
50 per cent of this waste is converted, the country would have
approximately 2.5 million litres of petrol every day, and
significant volumes of diesel and lubricating oil.
Also, unlike in crude oil processing, this conversion can be
carried out in smaller, low-investment plants. Zadgaonkar says
the processing costs are also low because this distillate,
unlike crude oil, contains no sulphur or lead. With further
value addition, more expensive petro-products like alfa-olifins
and aviation-grade gasoline can be obtained from the liquid
While Zadgaonkar announced the success of her experiment almost
two years ago, she was briefly dogged by controversy when her
Ph.D guide, Dr G.K. Ghoshal from Lakshmi Narain Institute of
Technology, Nagpur, declared that he was the co-inventor of
petrol from plastic waste.
Zadgaonkar claims she chose reclamation of petro-products from
waste plastic as the topic for her D. Sc degree and started
experimenting with waste plastic way back in 1995. She met
Ghoshal in 1999 and decided to do a Ph.D under his guidance. Her
subject this time was ‘Studies in co-processing of petroleum
residues with other heavy materials for optimum yield and
quality of coke products and their mechanism’, different from
her D.Sc research.
"But in 2001, when I applied for a patent on the waste plastic
conversion process, Ghoshal demanded co-inventor status and
threatened to subvert my Ph. D. When I did not yield, he carried
out a media campaign against me, saying that my claims were a
The negative publicity however, could not take credit away from
Zadgaonkar, who was invited by the IOC to sign a MoU on the
production of petrol from waste plastic. "That is what matters
to me, not a Ph.D degree."
She is looking forward to the launch of her new product within
a year. A pilot plant with a capacity of 15 tonnes will come up
in Nagpur within six months, followed by plants in Delhi and
then all over the country.
Will reclaimed petrol be cheaper than ordinary petrol?
According to Zadgaonkar, the process of conversion costs Rs 7.50
per litre. Along with the raw material expenditure, the total
cost of petrol production would be about Rs 12. However, she
says it is not possible to determine the exact cost at this
Zadgaonkar is happy that she has contributed in suggesting ways
to solve the plastic waste problem of the country. WFS
Alka Zadgaonkar Wrings Plastic Waste for
It is strange to hear Alka Zadgaonkar say, "Plastics are useful
to our lives. We can't deny that."
Were she a spokeswomen for the dishonest, self-serving plastic
industry lobby, that statement would be understandable. Were she
a legislator we could say she was evading the issue. Her
statement will likely infuriate many of us agonising over the
plastic litter all around us.
But hold your breath. Alka loves plastics for an exciting
reason; she is the inventor of a process that has the potential
to clear our environment of plastic waste, create a million jobs
in waste management, add useful, profitable products to our
economy and make India a technology leader in taming plastics.
Her work is breathtaking good news for this planet's
Pie on the table:
We are not talking of a pie in the sky idea that is still in
the laboratory. Alka and her husband Umesh, are buying in 5
tonnes of plastic waste everyday in Nagpur at prices attractive
to rag pickers. They are wringing fuel oil out of that unsightly
pile and selling it to industries in the Butibori Industrial
Estate, on Wardha Road out of Nagpur. Production from their
plant, Unique Plastic Waste Management & Research Co Pvt Ltd
is sold out for the next year.
They are making money right now, and are about to scale up and
buy in 25 tonnes of plastic waste a day. That production too is
booked. As Nagpur generates only 35 TPD of plastic waste, they
will shortly run out of raw material to grow bigger. So, a plant
based on their technology may soon be playing in your town, at a
factory near you.
All your questions:
Too good to be true? Let us at once address some of the
questions that are already popping up in your mind. Zadgaonkar's
is not a demo plant running on some government grant or subsidy.
They took a commercial loan from the State Bank of India in 2005
and have already begun paying back. In fact, the government let
them down and Zadgaonkars decided to flex the great Indian
entrepreneurial muscle. [On that, more later.]
The process invented and patented by Alka Zadgaonkar is capable
of accepting all tribes and castes of plastic waste as input:
carry bags, broken buckets and chairs, PVC pipes, CDs, computer
keyboards and other eWaste, the horrible, aluminized crinkly
bags of the kind that pack crisps, expanded polystyrene [the
abominable 'thermocole'], PET bottles- are these and others are
all given equal opportunity to contribute to Zadgaonkars'
profits. No sorting or picking is done.
No preparatory cleaning is necessary either, except shredding
that helps economic transport of bulky waste. All solids and
metal fines settle down in the melting process or are converted
Chlorinated plastics like PVC are particularly hazardous to
burn because they emit dioxins. In the Alka Zadgaonkar process,
the entire shredded mixture is melted at a low temperature and
led to a de-gasification stage. Here chlorine is led away to
harmlessly bubble through water, producing hydrochlorous acid.
Shredded waste is continually fed into a conventional extruder.
Here over the length of a heated extruder screw, the waste is
plasticised and melted at a relatively low temperature. The melt
is then stripped of chlorine as we just saw, and led to a
reactor where lies the crux of the invention. The melt interacts
with proprietory catalysts invented by Alka. The stable,
continual chain of carbon found in all plastics is destabilised
by a depolymerization reaction and rendered ready for a rich
Three streams of produce are obtained. A part of the gaseous
cloud is condensed to form a liquid hydrocarbon. This is the
recovered fuel oil. It is a sulphur free equivalent of
industrial crude. It can be readily used in furnaces or put
through fractional condensation to obtaine finer grades like
petrol. For a long while to come, the best market for this is as
furnace oil for process heating in factories. Zadgaonkar
recovery plants, when they spread in the country, can use
plastic from local dumps and serve local industries which
currently buy expensive furnace oil from far away.
What is not condensable at the reactor is obtained as a LPG
equivalent. A modified genset can generate electricity using
this gas. This is now standard practice at a Zadgaonkar plant,
which is self sufficient for power. The final remains are a
solid fuel called petroleum coke. Approximately 70% is liquid
hydrocarbon, 15% is gas and 5% is solid coke. Balance is ash and
And now the story:
Alka born in 1962, has always had a fascination for organic
chemistry. "I was intrigued by the way new products can be
created by playing with carbon and hydrogen molecules," she
says. "There was a sense of great control over things." That
mind set was to eventually lead her to her invention.
After marriage to Umesh Zadgaonkar, she settled in Nagpur and
began teaching chemistry. Umesh is an MBA and a natural
entrepreneur- which means he has an ability to grab the
opportunity ball and carry it over the line, eluding all
tackles. He was the first to bring health clubs and gyms to a
sleepy, conservative Nagpur; he realised the idea would appeal
to citizens given to living the clean life. In contrast, Alka is
a small, self-effacing lady fiercely committed to teaching and
housekeeping. Their son Akshay is a computer prodigy.
In 1993, Alka first began to notice plastic piles in their
clean and pleasant Nagpur. The menace was already a huge problem
in big cities and there was a rising chorus of concern demanding
solutions. These ranged from fiats to ban carry bags use [- as
though other forms of plastics were innocent], to recycling to
making the industry pay. "You can't wish away plastics," says
Alka. "They have become a part of our lives."
She began to think of a creative solution. It was still
pre-Internet days and she did not have ready to access to the
state of the art. She knew her chemistry, though. She began
arguing that the source of all plastics is petroleum. The trick
is to revert them to their previous life where they become
petroleum again. Plastics get their variety and stability from
strong continual, patterned bonding of the carbon molecule. If
this long chain is disrupted, they would collapse and can be
coaxed to their original form. The process of disruption is
That is so simplistic that many technologists will react
stating the many problems in the way. Alka was lucky she was
sounding Umesh. He's a positive person who believes anything is
possible. Ten years ago, when their son Akshay was just 8 and
home computers were intimidating, expensive objects, everyone
shooed the boy away from it. Not Umesh. That encouragement led
Akshay to become at 12, the world's youngest Microsoft Certified
Software Developer [MCSD]. The Zadgaonkar family was sent
tickets to Seattle for a private meeting with Bill Gates.
[Akshay, yet to finish college is interning with Microsoft at
So Umesh understands dreamers. He urged Alka to explore her
idea. "He believed in me and kept saying it was only a matter of
time and labour," she says. Young Sunil Raisoni, who runs the
Raisoni College where Alka teaches was another man who
encouraged her. She got space and permission to set up a lab in
the college. Zadgaonkars sold an apartment they had and set
aside Rs. 1 Lakh for equipment.
From the beginning Alka was clear that any process she develops
should be able to handle any manner of plastics, with little
cleaning or preparation. She was setting herself a harder target
in a territory without maps. Her idea was to get a plasticised
pool of waste to react with her proprietory catalysts to create
hydrocarbon fumes that can be condensed.
She set up her experiment at Raisoni college and began trying
various catalyst recipes. "I began with an awareness that it'd
be a long series of exploration," she says. But she was not
prepared for the length of that series. The temperature and
pressure [-atmospheric] parameters were pretty much
standardised; the only experimentation was with various
catalysts. And yet, there was no sign of promise.
Then came Carver:
Three years into her experiments and with nothing to show, Alka
was close to giving up. She began to doubt her ability. Umesh
sensed the mood and brought home a Marathi book for her to read.
It was 'Ek Hota Carver', a biography of George Washington
Carver, the great black American inventor and idealist. Alka
says,"That book shamed me. Here was a man who was black, denied
parental love and racially discriminated. Yet he pursued
knowledge that may benefit all and left his wealth for common
Carver carried her over the last mile. She resumed her
experiments with a new vigour. Then came the day, Dec 13, 1999.
She had set up that morning's trial catalyst and was in a
classroom teaching. A maintenance staff came rushing at 11 am
and said cooking gas was leaking from her lab.
"I knew at once that I had my winning catalyst. If there was
gas, there would be a distillate too," she recalls. And there it
was, a few milli litres of liquid petroleum recovered from
plastic film waste. She sat down for a few moments to take it
all in. And then she called Umesh.
The inevitable hard journey then began. News of such a
development naturally evokes both hyperbole and skepticism.
Media picked up the story and all Nagpur was agog. Then on Sep
2, 2003, the Union petroleum ministry sent a team from Indian
Oil Corporation's [IOC] R&D department.
They were dedicated investigators. They sat all day in Alka's
lab, even taking lunch there. They measured and noted
everything, peered into corners and took away samples they
produced with their own hands. Then at the invitation of the
minister Ram Naik, another demo took place at IOC's Faridabad
centre. Two more demos followed in Mumbai and Delhi.
IOC then declared its findings in a report: "The products have
been tested at IOC R&D and recommended possible end uses are
as follows: For liquid hydrocarbon: agricultural pumps, DG sets,
boiler fuel, marine bunker fuel, as input for petroleum
refineries, fuel oil etc; For gas: any nearby industries using
LPG, in-house consumption; For solid fuel: thermal power plants,
metallurgical industries." The minister then declared a grant of
Rs.6 crores for a pilot production plant to be set up by
Zadgaonkars in collaboration with IOC.
The freedom run:
Only, the grant never materialized. Alka and Umesh wrote
letters, reminders and called. Things stayed intriguingly
silent. When they probed deeper they discovered that a senior
science bureaucrat was angling for equity in the venture.
Elsewhere, Alka's PhD guide was campaigning to be named
Well, well what's new you say. Aren't these typical of India.
Yes, odds are indeed stacked against those with novel ideas and
spontaneous help seldom comes forth. But aren't heroes meant to
be of sterner stuff? And if there weren't enough of them around
GoodNewsIndia can't have run for over five years. A hero does
suffer setbacks but they don't stop him. Nor does he make a
display of his martyrdom. A hero vaults the odds or works around
In 2004, Umesh, ever the entrepreneur, flushed the whole
connection with IOC. He went over to the State Bank of India and
presented a business plan. They were interested but would
conduct their own trials on the idea. It was soon done and a
team of senior bank staff arrived in Nagpur to grant a loan of
Rs 5 crores. Alka's patent was treated as equity and pledged to
the bank as security. In under six months the plant came up and
in 2005 production began.
The rest we know.
Umesh is a busy man now, taking calls and meeting potential
franchisees. A delegation of Chief Ministers from five states
have visited to explore setting up plants in their states. A
team from Netherlands is in dialogue to see if the produce can
be mostly solid coke instead of liquid fuel. A team in IIT,
Mumbai is designing automation features for standard 5 TPD units
to be set up by franchisees. But these are early days still.
For now, clients in Butibori Estate's industrial units are
buying all that Unique can produce. The Bank has seen repayments
begin. But at the Zadgaonkar household, values have hardly
changed. Success sits lightly on this family of knowledge
seekers: Alka refuses to give up her calling as a teacher.
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