Yukon News

Plastic-to-oil machine comes to Whitehorse

Jacqueline Ronson Wednesday September 12, 2012

Ian Stewart/Yukon News

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Japanese inventor Kiyoshi Nakajima, creator of the Blest plastic-to-oil process, was in Whitehorse this week to install one of his machines at P&M Recycling for a year-long test project.

What if we could turn all the plastic in our landfills into oil to heat our homes and fuel our vehicles?

If that sounds like a pipe dream, it’s not. It’s happening right here, right now, in the Yukon.

A machine invented in Japan has been installed at P&M Recycling in Whitehorse. It can chew through 240 kilograms of plastic every day and produce enough oil to continuously heat about 70 Yukon homes.

It looks like a mad scientist’s workshop and takes over an area roughly the size of a pool table at the recycling plant’s warehouse.

Plastic that has been cut into coarse granules is fed into a trough. It then moves through various tubes and chambers.

Through the process, the plastic is heated into a liquid and then into a gas, and then cooled.

At the end, a light-coloured oil drips from a spigot into a receptacle.

The machine can process about 10 kilograms of plastic and produce about 10 litres of oil every hour, and can run continuously around the clock.

The only other byproducts include a tiny bit of carbon residue, carbon dioxide and water vapour.

The carbon dioxide emitted is equivalent to about four humans breathing normally.

Just about any plastic can be fed into the machine. Paper labels and a little dirt won’t hurt it, but the material should be relatively dry.

The electricity input costs an estimate 14 cents per litre of fuel produced.

The oil that comes out is a blend of gasoline, diesel, kerosene, and some heavy oils. It can be fed directly into an oil furnace, or could be processed further into something that could go straight into a diesel car.

The idea behind the machine is simple. When Yukon innovator Andy Lera first heard about it a year and a half ago, he thought it might be too good to be true.

“I looked at it and I thought, can this really exist, can this be true, can this process really work? Plastic, it comes from oil, but can we turn it back into oil?”

Lera experimented with his own small-scale plastic processor, which he admits was not particularly efficient or safe. But it proved that the concept works, that you can in fact turn plastic into oil.

He found a company in Japan that promised its machines could do the same thing, efficiently and on a large scale.

With a little more research, he discovered how much we need a technology like this in the Yukon.

“During the process of studying it, what I found out was that there are problems in our recycling stream,” Lera said.

“We all think it’s good to recycle, it’s good to recycle plastic. But in reality, when you go down and look at it, and find out that a lot of our plastic is being shipped out, it goes to China, it goes to India and the processing out there is not very clean.”

In some instances farmland has been re-purposed as a sorting area for plastics, said Lera.

“The plastics that they cannot process, because it’s got a paper label glued onto it or something, they’re lighting it on fire and burning in an open pile. And that’s going into the global atmosphere, it’s not just local over there.

“So this way, we’re taking a problem that we were exporting to another country, we’re processing it here in a very clean and efficient way.”

Lera’s idea has come to life thanks to funding from Cold Climate Innovation at the Yukon Research Centre and the Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency, in partnership with P&M Recycling.

They bought the machine for about $200,000 through distributor E-N-ergy, and modified it to function in a cold climate. For example, cooling in the system is done with antifreeze instead of water.

Most of the plastic we throw away is essentially worthless. Recycling centres in the south will pay for the number ones and number twos, which comprise a lot of beverage containers and related products. Polyvinyl chloride, the number three plastic, is toxic and quite nasty to deal with. No one will pay for numbers four through seven, which could make them an untapped gold mine.

“This plastic is worth zero as a plastic. What is it worth as a diesel, as a synthetic diesel? It’s probably worth way more than zero,” said Stephen Mooney, director of Cold Climate Innovation.

The goal of this pilot project is to give P&M Recycling the ability to process plastics onsite, rather than sorting it and trucking it south, while producing enough energy to heat the 600-square-foot recycling centre.

Pat McInroy, the owner of the recycling centre, estimates he will save $18,000 in annual heating costs, plus labour costs for sorting and baling the plastic, and trucking costs.

The machine should produce much more oil than is needed to heat the warehouse, and the excess could be sold.

The project will help determine the exact cost of turning plastic into oil, and how much it’s worth in the end.

The technology has been sold to commercial operations, municipalities and non-profits around the world, but this specific design is the first in the world.

Previous models were larger, less efficient and less user-friendly.

People from Alaska and elsewhere have expressed an interest in coming to Whitehorse to check out how the machine works.

“There’s potentially a million litres of oil going into our landfill a year. Why not take that and heat some homes?” asked Mooney.

Contact Jacqueline Ronson at

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8 Comments

roma wrote:
6:37pm Monday September 24, 2012

Please cam we have info for the machine thank you

Sanjay Vadhera wrote:
5:56am Sunday September 23, 2012

Please can you send me information on frequently basis to keep us updated on methods & news around for renewable energy methods.
Regards
Sanjay

Melba Disco Dancing Queen wrote:
9:38pm Friday September 14, 2012

Thank you Jacqueline for the good information.  I think it is important to follow the money, especially when a business was awarded a significant sum like $200,000 to buy a piece of equipment.  Many people are not even aware that these funds exist and might be surprised to learn how much money is available to buy them what they need to test their ideas.  Other tax payers might find it questionable practise to give away such huge sums of money, if the only pay back is a report on how the test year went.

Jacqueline Ronson wrote:
7:06pm Friday September 14, 2012

Hi Melba,
Your comment raises some very interesting questions, and I don’t have answers for all of them at this point.
Here’s what I do know.
P&M Recycling did not pay for the machine, but has invested in “new equipment and power upgrades to support the machine’s operation as well as staff, power and space,” according to a press release. For example, they had to buy equipment to chew up the plastic into little bits so it can be fed into the processor.
The other thing to note is that this is a test project. We don’t actually know how profitable this machine will be, because it is a very new technology and has never been used in the North before. It can technically produce 240 litres of oil a day, but it likely will not be able to operate around the clock for a full year without stopping. The estimated 14 cents in electricity is one of the costs, but collecting the plastic, running the other equipment, space and labour are other costs. Until the project is complete, we won’t really know what it costs for this machine to make oil from plastic.
...Continued below…

Jacqueline Ronson wrote:
7:05pm Friday September 14, 2012

...Continued from above…
The “million litres of oil” quote at the end refers to the estimated amount of plastic going into landfills in the territory, not the capacity of this machine. If it ran at full capacity for the whole year without stopping, this machine could hypothetically make about 87,600 litres of oil. This is assuming there are no glitches or break-downs and they are able to secure and process plastic fast enough to keep the machine working continuously.
The reason the government would invest in a project like this, I imagine, is because they believe that if it is successful they will get a return on their investment in terms of stimulating economic growth, but not through a direct pay back.
That being said I don’t know what the plans are for this machine after the one-year test project, or who will directly benefit from any profits it generates.
I hope that answers some of your questions, and I will get back to you if I can find out anything else!

Melba Disco Dancing Queen wrote:
1:56am Friday September 14, 2012

Great, wonderful, love it; but I have a question.  Am I reading correctly that taxpayers paid a large portion (not specified) of $200,000 to buy a machine for PM recycling, who are expecting to get free oil in perpetuity, plus business savings, plus lots of oil left over to sell to others?  “idea came to life thanks to funding from Cold Climate Innovation.. and the Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency, in partnership with P&M Recycling.  They bought the machine for about $200,000”

Is PM recycling expected to pay back this money through oil sales?  The article states that the estimated maximum potential is ‘1 million kilograms’ per year of plastic.  With 1 kg producing 1L for $.14 of electricity, that leaves about $1 per litre in profit, for a maximum potential of $1 million per year.  Now I know these are maximums and estimates and it is a pilot project and all that, but even $100,000 a year means that the taxpayer could be reimbursed within 2 years or so, depending on how much we paid toward this machine (not mentioned).  I am all for helping people’s ‘dreams come true’ as it was put, but would like to think that the other investors, namely Yukoners, would also benefit from this gadget.

Best of luck, I hope it is a fantastic success!

Max Mack wrote:
5:12pm Thursday September 13, 2012

I appreciate the general public’s enthusiasm for such a project. However, a fair study of the costs and benefits of projects of this kind must consider and weigh all of the costs/benefits—not just those that favour a marketing campaign or that tap into the public’s need to save the environment. Cold Climate Innovation and its backers have a vested interest in a positive outcome, so take their research for what its worth.

Kevin Raw wrote:
2:43pm Thursday September 13, 2012

Good luck to everyone involved.  We really hope this machine proves to be viable.  It was mankind’s ingenuity that got the world into a mess.  We hope it will be mankind’s ingenuity that gets us out of this mess.  I am proud that Yukon is at the forefront of testing this type of innovation.

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