Plastic to Oil

Prof [Mrs] Alka Zadgaonkar

Head of the Dept.- Applied Chemistry,
G H Raisoni College of Engineering, Nagpur - 440016
Phones: Home: [0712] 2220111; Mobile: 093701-20111 [Umesh Zadgaonkar];
email: [email protected]; [email protected]

A Wand that Converts Plastic Waste to Fuel


Shyam Pandharipande/IANS

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 LPG.

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 happen.

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 large.

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 1997.

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 hydrocarbon fuels.

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 perseverance.

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 humanity.

This is an idea whose time has come.

[ PDF ]


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; C10G1/10; C10G11/05
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 ]


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!

T. Jahnavi

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 40-year-old Zadgaonkar.

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 distillate.

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 hoax."

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 stage.

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 Profit

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 environment.

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 to ash.

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.

Process path:

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 harvest.

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 metal fines.

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 random depolymerization.

Planning disruption:

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 Hyderabad.]

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 good."

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 co-inventor.

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 them.

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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