The goal of the Plastics to Fuel project is to design an open-source reactor for single-step conversion of waste plastic to diesel fuel. The reactor could be essential to reducing the amount of plastic waste washing up on beaches and will be easily operable by members of small communities. Thermal cracking of common plastics, made up largely of hydrocarbons, in an inert atmosphere can break long polymer molecules down to more volatile and flammable compounds in a process called “pyrolysis”. By engineering the degradation process, we can convert plastics directly to the compounds that make up diesel fuel. Diesel fuel is constituted of hydrocarbons of varying length, with normal distribution between 8 carbon units and 23 carbon units long. Our team has worked to determine specific catalyst types and amounts to improve yield, designed a refluxing condenser to efficiently separate desired hydrocarbons from undesired products, and established that the process is effective at converting a number of common plastics directly to diesel fuel.
By designing a reactor to produce ultra-low sulfur diesel from waste plastics, our team hopes to offer an alternative to standard plastic disposal methods in rural areas and keep plastics out of landfills.