Just think about all the plastic people use every single day–bottles, Tupperware, packaging–the list goes on and on. Now imagine if all that plastic were diverted from the recycling plant or landfill and used to create clean, renewable energy. That’s exactly the vision that prompted Yiannis Levendis and his team of Northeastern University students to create their new, double-tank waste combustor. The combustor prototype converts plastic waste into energy without creating harmful emissions.
Plastic is first processed in an upper tank, which converts the material into gas through a process called pyrolysis. Then, the gas moves to the lower tank, where it’s burned with oxidants. That burning generates heat and steam, which drive combustion and generate electric power. While other waste-to-fuel generators have been developed, Levendis says his machine has the added bonus of not producing harmful emissions.
The waste combustor is currently still in prototype phase, but Levendis is dreaming big: Eventually, he envisions scaling up this concept to juice a large power plant. A connected plastic recycling center could provide a constant stream of fuel.
Levendis calculates that if all recycled plastics in America were converted to energy, it could replace 462 million gallons of petroleum! And that’s not factoring in plastics that aren’t recycled and plastics from other countries.