Japanese Inventor Built a Machine That Turns Plastic Bags into Oil

Could plastic bags fuel your car?
Irmak Bayrakdar
The plastic bag converting machine.UN University/YouTube

Let's talk numbers. On average, Americans use 100 billion plastic bags a year, which are produced with 12 million barrels of oil. When you think about the fact that one plastic bag takes 1,000 years to degrade, that's a lot of waste lying around in landfills or poured into the ocean. What's worse is that these plastic bags don't even break down completely. They get polluted by the sunlight and turn into microplastics that absorb toxins, polluting the environment.

While the stats look worrisome, there are many, and usually ingenious, ways to properly recycle plastic bags. One smart solution belongs to a Japanese inventor, Akinori Ito. Ito has created a household appliance that converts plastic bags into fuel. The resulting fuel can be used for various applications such as the generation of heat.

The future of plastic

Ito realized that since plastic bags are created from oil, they can be converted back into their original form. The crude oil produced can be used to heat generators and some stoves. It can serve as an alternative to gasoline when refined and can even be used to power cars, boats, or motorbikes.

One kilogram of plastic can produce approximately one liter of oil. The conversion process requires approximately 1 kWh of electricity, which is worth approximately 20 cents.

By converting plastic into oil, we are eliminating CO2 pollution. Although the end product is still a fuel that will give off CO2 when burnt, this recycling method could revolutionize the way waste plastics are treated. It raises awareness of the potential of plastic fuel.

The ingenious system is built for household use which has the potential to create energy independence among consumers. This, in effect, creates less of a need to extract more oil from the earth.

How it works

The machine uses highly efficient pyrolysis which is the transformation of a compound into a smaller and simpler compound under high temperatures. It is able to process different types of plastics such as polyethylene, polystyrene, and polypropylene. However, it is unable to process PET bottles.

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The process begins with the heating of the plastic. It is then fed into the pressurized oxygen-free oven. It is heated to 800°F (427° C) which turns the plastic into a liquid. The machine then transforms the liquid into a gaseous state. The gas that is produced is then trapped and stored away for cooling. The vapor condenses when it's cool and forms crude oil.

The video below shows Ito demonstrating his machine at work.

The crude oil produced by the machine is a mixture of gasoline, diesel, kerosene, and heavy oil. The machine does not produce any toxic substances when fed with the proper materials such as polyethylene, polystyrene, and polypropylene. Furthermore, the machine produces a small amount of inert char residue which can be disposed of along with regular garbage.

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