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Published on February 14th, 2011 | by Michael Ricciardi

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Award-Winning Inventor Makes Fuel from Plastic Bags

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February 14th, 2011 by
 

What most of us see as the ubiquitous blight of modern convenience consumerism, i.e., littered plastic shopping bags, Japanese inventor Akinori Ito sees as the “fuel of the future”. Like most sensible inventions, Ito’s began with the simple realization that plastic bags are made from oil. Thus, it should be possible, he theorized, to revert these same items back to their original form.

His invention is actually a non-polluting, fully contained process that heats up the plastic, traps the vapors and channels them through an intricate system of pipes and water chambers. These, in turn, cool the vapors and condense them back into crude oil. This crude oil can be used in generators and even some stoves. An additional refinement step converts the crude oil into gasoline.

The carbon-negative system — now offered by Ito’s Blest Corporation, founded in early 2010 — is a highly-efficient technology, converting 1 kilogram (about 2 lbs.) of plastic into 1 liter (about a quart) of oil using just 1 kilowatt of power (cost: about .20 cents). However, the current cost of this system is just under 10,000 USD. Ito hopes to bring this price down through ramping up the production process as the word gets out and demand increases.

Of course, the end product of this conversion system is still fuel that must be burned, and thus, it will give off CO2 as part of the combustion process. Still, recycling is a cornerstone of environmentalism, and such systems, if they became wide-spread, could offer a form of energy independence to consumers and seriously lessen demand for more extraction as we transition into a carbon-neutral (or “clean,” carbon-negative) energy economy.

Plastic bags could also become a coveted, recycling commodity similar to how aluminum cans have virtually disappeared from landfills.

Ito’s DIY approach to energy conversion/recycling earned him one of Mental Floss Magazine’s annual “Golden Lobe” Awards (special category: “The Fantastic Plastic” Award) for 2011.

Photo by M. Ricciardi

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About the Author

Michael Ricciardi is a well-published writer of science/nature/technology articles as well as essays, poetry and short fiction. Michael has interviewed dozen of scientists from many scientific fields, including Brain Greene, Paul Steinhardt, Arthur Shapiro, and Nobel Laureate Ilya Progogine (deceased). Michael was trained as a naturalist and taught ecology and natural science on Cape Cod, Mass. from 1986-1991. His first arts grant was for production of the environmental (video) documentary 'The Jones River - A Natural History', 1987-88 (Kingston, Mass.). Michael is an award winning, internationally screened video artist. Two of his more recent short videos; 'A Time of Water Bountiful' and 'My Name is HAM' (an "imagined memoir" about the first chimp in space), and several other short videos, can be viewed on his website (http://www.chaosmosis.net). He is also the author of the (Kindle) ebook: Artful Survival ~ Creative Options for Chaotic Times



  • elton

    If this can be replicated to an industrial level this could be big business

  • Vegnesh

    can metallised film (plastic coated with a couple of layers of Al atoms ) be also converted

  • Me

    what is the additional refinement process mentioned earlier that could, in turn, turn the crude oil produced into gasoline? :)

  • Bernie Meister

    Give me a break. That little 10000 dollar contraption turns plastic bags into gasoline. Anyone involved in the energy business knows better. Better put a gag on this fellow.

  • Sanjeev

    Guys Wake up..
    Alka Zadgaonkar has patented this “Fabulous” process more than a decade ago..Lets give the right person the right credit..

    • fil smyth

      Did a search and found pages that support your statement. She does deserve some credit. However, regardless of any patent this is a simple idea and various people are coming up with it independently, without ever having heard of the others. For that matter, I would not be surprised to learn that someone thought of it shortly after plastics began to be produced.

      In the past and even up until today, ideas like this have been heavily suppressed. If this were not the case, and if Alka was indeed the first to think of it, everyone would know her name.

  • EFREN B.

    GOVERMENTS DO NOTHING, ONLY PEOPLE CAN SAVE THE WORLD
    MAKE THIS MACHINE AVAILABLE TO PEOPLE OF THE WORLD

    • Guest

      Could this technology be applied to plastic bottles too?

      • fil smyth

        Yes. Watch the video.

        B-)

  • http://www.chaosmosis.net Michael Ricciardi

    To Thomas Jefferson:

    you wrote:

    “The majority of LDPE plastic bags are made from natural gas, not oil.”

    Natural gases (such as Ethane C2H5, and methane, CH4) are hydrocarbon gases, and are the result of the same natural processes that produce crude oil (a less volatile, more strongly bonded hydrocarbon); the gases are the volatiles.

    So, the causal chain would be: oil => natural gas => plastic bags (+ heat) => gas vapor (+ water cooling) => oil

  • Ed

    This is a step in the right direction. My local recycle won’t take plastic bags, so a tremendous ressource is being lost. The product could be used for other things besides fuels, although a refinery would be required. Hovever we have tons and tons of plastic bags and a lot of excess refinery capacity right now.

  • Joey Tavares

    Riiight.

    Oil makes plastic.

    Plastic makes bags.

    Someone turned the bags back into oil and it’s a discovery? HOWSABOUT JUST NOT MAKING THE BAGS, HUNH???

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_BC6FHDWT24Q2SALIFLKMZJBO3M Zee Zee

      why don’t we also not turn soil into food, or not turn cotton into clothes, or not turn wood into books? maybe we should just freeze in the winter.

      • giveahoot

        Ooooorrr, we could not totally overgeneralize another person’s statement and go out and buy a couple $1 reusable eco-friendly shopping bags. They make them out of burlap, canvas, and in all kinds of fun colors. Go wild.

  • MK Ultra

    All plastic goods are oil byproducts so it makes sense that plastic can be turned back into some fuel thingie. At what cost to the environment that remains to be seen, of course. This would be a great way to recycle all those millions of bags that come from Wal Mart. Ha! Seriously, this poor guy doesn’t stand a chance. Just think of who he’s going up against.

  • denise ward

    Hey Global Warming Cartoon Network: government invented the internet and Nasa flew us to the moon. Health insurers had decades to come up with a good health system and they couldn’t do that and Wall Street, well you’ve seen what they did. So why the anti-government antipathy?

  • Michael R.

    Paul; I think that you are over-thinking this;

    My belief here is that the invention is for DIY/home/garage use…its value is in individual consumption of fuel (savings).

    The electricity used is for heating the initial plastic bag load.

    The energy return ultimately depends upon the fuel efficiency of the method of combustion. As noted, this combustion clearly causes some CO2 emission, what is “carbon negative” or “neutral” here is the process of conversion to fuel– based upon the claims of the inventor (and the magazine), as opposed to traditional (large-scale) refining methods.

    The “original” energy source (for the consumer) is the plastic bags, but the true original energy source is the oil, of course.

    I do not understand you reference to nuclear fusion.

    The claims are not that extravagant, and, since we don’t have a schematic of the process/system (perhaps for IP reasons), we do have to rely on the original news story in Mental Floss (from whence I got it). the article clearly mentions Blest Corporation (the website, however, is in Japanese).

    There is no mention of transport costs, as this is intended (I presume) for individual consumers (transporting the start up equipment is probably not carbon-neutral).

    This process could be scaled up, but, again, the presumed intent here is NOT for an ‘economy of scale’ effort, but for personal energy needs.

    I suspect that may of your questions can be answer in more detail with the aid of a Japanese translator.

  • ignatzfattis

    Non-polluting? Once burned in an engine the “oil” made from these bags will definitely pollute -just as bad as if they had never been a plastic bags. The phrase “non-polluting” should not even be in this article.

    In Japan, where they burn pretty much all garbage, this idea makes at least some sense -at least the energy released from the inevitable burn is being put to some use -but it is most definitely NOT the “fuel of the future” in any way. Moving over to a carbon neutral fuel like biodiesel and recycling all existing and future waste plastics for use in new products makes MUCH more sense.

    • Qby2001

      Actually genius if you keep reading you will see that they do infact mention that the burning of the oil gives off CO2. The machine itself is non-polluting, and your wrong about it being as bad as the plastic bags, plastic bags give off while being made, during there useful time and when in landfills where they take centuries to decompose giving off even more gases and filling up the dumps. Not to mention that while they are in a landfill they kill animals who think it is food. Before you decide to try and be all smart do a little more reading. Research is your friend!

      • Anonymous

        Sounds like a plan -maybe you should try it Smarty Pants.

  • Savantster

    Full blown 100% reclamation systems have been around for a while, using the same kind of ideas Ito has. The bigger ones will take in ALL garbage and convert them to useful liquids and gasses that can be re-injected into the production system. I read about them something like 6 years ago.. they aren’t being built with any significance, probably because of the energy input requirements (it’s easier to break down just these bags than say, tires)..

    Of course, most of our problems in this world lie around the need for energy, yet we don’t seem to be making that our biggest investment venue. Odd, isn’t it? Billions upon billions for war, hardly anything on fixing a core problem of our civilization.

  • http://bravonewworld.blogspot.com Tim

    So THIS is what the Earth humans will do once they’ve removed all the oil from planet’s crust. They’ll just recycle it and burn some more.

    I jest, of course. I do see some positivity in this invention.

    • Yogita Vibhute

      Its very good what will cost of this instrument for India

  • Thomas Jefferson

    The majorit of LDPE plastic bags are made from natural gas, not oil.

  • mary

    It would be a good idea if:

    1. It were possible to do this on a large-scale. Sounds like one man in his garage, tinkering away.
    2. Global warming is the truth, ok? It’s part of the changing climate. You don’t see it yet, but in 20 years you will. Don’t be so ignorant. The facts are out there for you to read about how much the climate in many countries has changed for the worse: droughts, floods, etc.
    3. I’ll believe it when it is reproduced again, and again in another setting, with official results. Just reporting on something doesn’t validate it, just publicizes it.

    In other words, the post by Paul is the only one that carries any weight. Everything has to be validated and quantified. Anything else is just sheer flim-flam.

  • Global Warming Cartoon Network

    Seriously, get lost with the “Global Warming” crap.

    Other than that, notice how Government can’t seem to invent these things, with all it’s might and money?

    • Thomas Jefferson

      I pity you.

  • jim

    his is news? have a look at GRC Global Resouces Ltd. they have been working on this for about 10 years now.

  • jojo

    Don’t get your hopes up–it’s a bummer.Stop using natural gas for heating–it’s a pure waste of a resource that is used for many important products. Fools abound– Used plastics can easyly be recycled for plastic again instead of using oil/gas at alot of savings than the proposed invention.Start inventing ways to reterve heat safely from abundant coal–better off u dreamers
    P.S. Why plastics distilled,why not wood chipps?

  • Paul

    1. How much energy is returned for the energy invested (EROEI)?
    It says 1 kilowatt of electricity. Even the simplest simpleton knows that Electricity is not a source of energy. One must use another source to convert into energy, ie burn coal, harness wind, burn oil etc.

    2. Have the claims been verified by an independent third party?

    Probably not, can’t tell by the article anyway.

    3. Can I see the alternative energy being used?

    4. Can you trace it back to the original energy source?

    The energy comes from nuclear fusion.

    5. Does the invention defy the Laws of Thermodynamics?
    Nothing defies the laws of thermodynamics. That is impossible. Cold fusion is measured using calorimetry, which is predicated upon the laws of thermodynamics.

    6. Does the inventor make extravagant claims?

    Seems pretty extravagant to me, especially now we have $3.50/gallon oil again and money is tight. Looking more and more suspicious.

    7. Does the inventor claim zero pollution?
    In fact this inventor is claiming negative pollution, less plastic bags.

    8. Can I see the blueprints, schematics or a chemical analysis of how it works?

    Nope, nothing in the article.

    9. Infrastructure requirements: Does the energy source require a corporation to produce it?

    Yes, probably. Next criteria.

    10. How will it be transported and used?

    Transportation costs too and from the refining plant will be expensive, eating away at sustainability.

    11. Will it require new engines, pipelines, and filling stations? If so, what will these cost?
    This technique in all probability will require expensive infrastructure on a massive scale to become economical. Moving on.

    13. Who will pay for them and with what?

    Consumers will pay for them.

    14. How long will it take to build them?

    Once again, no mention in the article.

    In conclusion. This is an in viable technology. Trying selling snake oil to the next sucker.

    • Forrest

      Methinks you should stop ditching your high school English classes before you post online again. Also, take some time to study some basic philosophy/rational thinking.

      1 Star for misguided passion
      Negative 2 stars for ignorant arguments

      Total: Negative 1

    • http://search4beauty.blogspot.com Erik

      These are all valid questions and many have already been answered. I find it interesting your first response is to attack the author and the technology.

      It is unlikely that the author of an article regarding “new technologies” will ever provide you with blueprints, schematics or a chemical analysis. A brief internet search will, however, provide you with access to many answers you are searching for as this is not a new technology.

      Rather than lash out because you hear of a technology that impresses you, you might consider contacting the researchers and developers who have direct access to the information you would want. Although your questions are valid, your conclusions are ill-supported.

    • Nick P

      The energy density of oil is about 10.7KWh per liter. The net gain in energy therefore appears to be about 9.7KWhr of energy per Kg of plastic bags.

      Another way of interpreting the claim is to calculate the breakeven point for a $10K machine that produces fuel competing with hte current national avg pump price of $3.13/gal. About 4200 gallons are required. Of course that neglects cost of plastic (free? from stores??), loabor, and peripheral eqt. Nonetheless, there looks to be merit in the idea.

    • Random

      Better solution: just stop using plastic bags in the first place. American society seems hell bent on solving problems we shouldn’t have in the first place. A pill to cure obesity, alternative energy to allow you to keep consuming as much as you want, desalination so we can keep wasting fresh water. How about scaling back the gluttony instead? I’m not a Luddite, but you’d be amazed how far a little conservation and moderation will take you…

  • Wenkat

    This is need of the hour! I endorse it fully!

  • http://www.worldsbestinformation.org/ Worlds Best Information

    This is one of great Invention from plastic bags to produce fuel. It will be helpful to environment and we will be safe from global warming. Really if plastic bags use for recycling, it’s definitely solved the problem of fuel shortage.

    • Qb2001

      We will so completely not be safe from global warming!!!! Plastic bags are not the only thing causing global warming. Combustion, factory farms, nuclear power, and so much more! Get you facts straight sweetheart.

      • Ronald73

        Yes, and human and animal bodies generate heat and methane gas so as the population (humans AND animals) increases we’ll generate more global heat. Let’s all lie down for one hour in the middle of the day and maybe drive only half way to work and grow all of our vegetables in our back yards or in window boxes and take shallow breaths so we don’t use so much oxygen and never fly in a jet plane, et cetera.

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