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From Petro to Plastic and Back Again


March 17, 2014 – I didn’t know that plastic could be melted and returned to its petroleum state, but it appears that it can.  Plants already exist in England for that very purpose.  After spending years in a business incubation facility in Akron, Ohio, one such plant is now ready to go online in Ohio next month.

Certainly from the standpoint of putting plastic refuse someplace other than landfill, this sounds like a good idea.  It seems unlikely we will run out of plastic anytime soon.  It’s the diesel fuel that literally comes out at the other end that worries me.  While diesel produces no carbon dioxide pollution, particulate matter is another problem entirely.  Because diesel particles are extremely fine, they can penetrate deeply into the lungs.  The rough surfaces of the particles cause them to catch, and combine with, other toxic inhalants. 

The primary health concerns which result from exposure to these particles are heart and lung disease, including lung cancer.  So while the conversion plant itself produces little in the way of pollution, the end product is cause for concern.  Although diesel exhaust is far cleaner today than it was prior to the year 2000, the dilemma of particle pollution still remains to be solved.  (Diesel fuel is widely used around the globe.)

The foregoing notwithstanding, Vadxx Energy will begin accepting 60 tons of plastic a day next month.  The end product, 300 barrels of petrochemical liquid, will wind up as diesel fuel and lubricants.  Akron has kept faith with Vadxx for eight years, choosing to help the newly created business during its test phase when Cleveland sent the erstwhile job creator packing.

The Akron Global Business Accelerator, housed in a former B.F. Goodrich tire factory in downtown Akron, gave Vadxx its beginning.  The pilot plant, which also serves as a demonstration facility intended to attract investors, is located in a city-owned industrial building, close by the Business Accelerator.

Of particular interest is the fact that a second plastic conversion company is also near the startup phase, also in Akron.  RES Polyflow’s demonstration facility is located in North Perry, outside Cleveland.  Its first public demonstration was given there, successfully, last summer, and the company is now speaking with potential customers.

How should these developments be assessed?  While the practical use of plastic trash is welcome, its conversion to diesel fuel is a mixed blessing.  Let’s hope that the successful eradication of previous noxious pollutants contained in diesel exhaust are the precursor to at last eliminating the particles that are known to cause health havoc.



With thanks to the Akron Beacon Journal and Wikipedia.

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