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Answer to plastic pollution found? Big breakthrough as Indian Oil converts plastic waste into oil

FE Online

Big technological breakthrough likely in store for India! The country's largest PSU refiner and retailer, the Indian Oil Corporation (IOC) is about to complete and finalize on a research which could lead to one of the biggest technological breakthroughs and help the government eliminate single-use plastics by the year 2022. The organization is finalising the research, which had been undertaken over the last few years, for the liquefaction of toxic plastic waste, according to a recent IANS report. This could eventually mean the Indian Oil Corporation could put the systems at its refineries and petrochemical complexes with a solution to commercially produce oil from the plastics waste.

According to an IOC official quoted in the report, the initial research on the plastic liquefaction process has been encouraging and that they have to take the research to the proof stage, which would also help them to develop the processes for commercial extraction of oil from the generated plastics waste. As plastics are basically derived from petrochemicals, the idea of converting its generated waste back into oil by the method of pyrolysing has been pursued at a global level, according to the report. Also, plastic-to-oil commercial production is still going on in countries, such as China and Japan, where the yield levels varies between 38-63 per cent. This means that 38-62 tonnes of oil is being produced using 100 tonnes of plastics as the feedstock.

However, for the process to achieve a wider acceptance, the price of crude oil in the process will form a critical factor. Crude oil costing below USD 60 per barrel would not be able to support the high cost of plastics liquefaction process and would negate the investment in the commercial scale plants. Media reports mentioned Rajiv Singh, IOC Chairman as saying that while the plastic liquefaction initiative is being pursued aggressively, the firm is undertaking other initiatives as well in order to find a permanent solution for the toxic waste of plastic.

Among other initiatives, the organisation is also looking at converting the used cooking oil (UCO) into fatty acid methyl esters (FAME), which constitutes fuel properties similar to the crude-based diesel and is hence called as biodiesel. So, UCO could also become a major source for the production process of biodiesel. The potential of biodiesel from used cooking oil in the country is estimated to be at 3.5 MMTPA.

Meanwhile, in another technological breakthrough, IOC has been successful in manufacturing the soluble polybags, which are made from the single-use waste plastic for the bitumen packaging. This process eliminates the need to carry bitumen, utilized in road construction and in steel vessels.