Backed by the UK government, the British firm Recycling Technologies (RT) is piloting a system able to turn a mix of plastics—including cling film, polyester clothing, carpets and much more—into marine fuel oil that will more than meet the 2020 MARPOL Annex VI global 0.50% sulfur cap.
The RT prototype machine is unique in that it can handle a variety of plastics. Using a feedstock recycling method developed at Warwick University, it is able to process plastic waste without the need for sorting, the biggest single barrier to industrial-scale, economically-viable recycling.
Removing this roadblock also has huge environmental implications as a potential solution for the massive volume of plastics polluting the oceans. According to a study presented by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation at this year’s World Economic Forum, if nothing is done, plastic will outweigh fish in the oceans by 2050.
Residual Waste Plastic Conversion
RT’s output has been christened Plaxx, a low-sulfur hydrocarbon with a very high calorific value. In addition to marine fuel oil (Plaxx-16), it is also suited to a range of industrial applications. Plaxx-8 (naphtha/light oil) could be used for virgin plastic production, for example, and Plaxx-40 (highly paraffinic slack wax) for candles, polish and cosmetics.
RT will manufacture its first industrial version, the RT7000, for Perthshire, Scotland. Scheduled to begin operation in 2018, it will turn 7000 metric tons of plastic waste into 5000 tons of Plaxx annually.
Talking to NauticExpo e-magazine, RT marketing director Adrian Haworth, explained: “We accept all mixed plastics, but limit PVC, PET and other non-olefins to 5% each. A single RT7000 is designed to handle one ton per hour with an annual plan of 7000 tons of dry plastic. Moisture and contamination could increase this figure. The machine will have a 75% mass conversion and 85% energy conversion rate.”
Saving the Planet and Saving Money
A further reason for the company’s enthusiasm is that an RT7000 costs £3 million (€3.35 million) to install and £500,000 (€560,000) per year to operate, but should generate annual revenue of about £1.7 million (€1.9 million). That means the initial investment could be recovered in under 30 months.
“[This is] the current design target and payback schedule based on a £250/ton product (€280). We expect to be able to improve on this number, but that’s dependent on oil prices.”
“RT7000 should generate annual revenue of €1.9 million.”
Regarding Plaxx-16 as a low-sulfur marine fuel oil, Haworth clarified: “We are finalizing the specification of Plaxx-16 to ensure pour point and viscosity compatibility with existing fuels. We will now produce an MGO and an HFO. Both products will contain less than 0.1% sulfur. We have a detailed test program in place with Ricardo and Lloyd’s Register to qualify these products.”
His aim is to have 100 RT7000s on stream by 2025.
Recycling Technologies CEO Adrian Griffiths concluded: “It was always the objective to make a machine that could pay for itself, because then people will make the investment decisions and it can scale very quickly.”
“Plaxx is an eco-innovative product that will contribute to the growth of a circular economy by retaining oil-based materials in use through the repeated remaking of plastics from an end-of-life plastic source—simply put, turning a waste into a resource.
“The carbon footprint of fossil-based plastics will be reduced through their repeated reuse, as well as by their increased efficiency as a fuel.”
Griffiths concluded: “We want to change the history of plastic in the world.”