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