When the people behind the Land Art Generator Initiative heard about inventor Akinori Ito’s machine, which converts plastics back into oil, they came up with an even more interesting concept. Instead of using more fossil fuels to recycle the discarded plastic, like Mr. Ito’s gizmo, which uses 9% of the energy contained in each liter of oil it produces, they proposed to build a solar powered tower that performs the same function. The product of that thought experiment is called the Plastikoleum. Not only does the tower require zero energy to turn what is essentially a free raw material into fuel, but it also has the ability to produce at least 10 tons of oil per hour versus the 50kg maximum capacity that Mr. Ito of the Blest Corporation is able to produce.
At 10MW, which is half the size of a conventional solar power tower, the Plastikoleum can produce 900 barrels of oil a day. While that hardly compares at all to the total global production of oil, the tower can eradicate a significant amount of plastic pollution. Plus, 900 barrels a day can easily power a small town. So how does it work? The plastic has to be heated to 500 degrees celsius in order to break it down. Rob Ferry proposes to melt the plastic in an oxygen-free chamber to avoid any kind of toxic off-gassing, and then reuse the resulting oil as fuel.
Ferry acknowledges that burning the oil will contribute to carbon emissions, but also points out that plastic bags stuck in landfills may contribute more greenhouse gas emissions than the Plastikoleum would. Meanwhile, burning the plastic without capturing the latent energy produces 5x as much emissions as burning the repurposed oil. And the best part? 900 barrels of oil per day sold at $100 a pop amounts to $32 million in annual revenues. So not only does the tower clean up our plastic nightmare, but it also pays itself off in just two years.