You know how all that plastic crap is piling up in our landfills and polluting our oceans? When you think of recycling electronics, no doubt you imagine the old PC or mobile phone being disassembled, and it’s metal and plastic parts melted down to be repurposed. But for some people, it means reusing the parts to generate energy.
Student researchers at Northeastern University have designed an apparatus to convert plastic waste into clean energy without releasing harmful emissions. Student researchers at Northeastern University have designed an apparatus to convert plastic waste into clean energy without releasing harmful emissions.
Under the leadership of Yiannis Levendis, distinguished professor of mechanical and industrial engineering, a team of undergraduate and graduate engineering students developed a waste combustor, which breaks down non-biodegradable plastics to create an alternative source of fuel.
Their prototype was featured at the fifth annual MIT Energy Conference this past March. The team worked for nine months on the research, which, for the undergraduates, was their senior capstone project.
Self-sustainability is the key to the double-tank combustor design. Plastic waste is first processed in an upper tank through pyrolysis, which converts solid plastic into gas. Next, the gas flows to a lower tank, where it is burned with oxidants to generate heat and steam. The heat sustains the combustor while the steam can be used to generate electric power.
“The prototype can be scaled up to drive a large power plant, which could connect to a plastic recycling center for a constant flow of fuel,” said David Laskowski, an undergraduate student working on the team. According to Laskowski, calculations show that the new technology has the potential of replacing up to 462 million gallons of petroleum in the United States alone, if all recycled plastics were to be processed.