Clean Planet Energy Makes Fuels For Airplanes & Ships From Non-Recyclable Plastics

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The twin scourges of the modern world are carbon emissions and plastic waste. What if there was a way to take some of that plastic waste and turn it into clean burning fuels for aircraft and ships? Clean Planet Energy says it is doing just that. It has two so-called ecoPlants under construction and another 4 in development. Its goal is to convert more than 1 million tons of non-recyclable plastic waste a year into clean burning fuels and other low carbon products. “Clean Planet’s liquid fuels, produced using our propriety upgrading process, provide at least a 75% reduction in CO2e emissions compared to traditional fossil fuels,” the company says.

Clean Fuels For The Marine Industry

Image credit: Clean Planet Energy

Clean Planet Energy announced this week it will manufacture two new ultra-clean fuels to replace fossil fuels for ships. Both fuels are produced using non-recyclable waste plastics as the feedstock, thereby putting wastes that would otherwise go to incinerators, landfills, or the oceans to good use. One is an ultra-clean marine residual fuel (also known as bunker fuel or fuel oil) that meets the ISO 8712 2017 standard. The other is a premium marine distillate fuel which matches the highest EN15940 diesel specification, according to Hydrocarbon Engineering. In addition to the 75% CO2e reduction, a significant benefit of these new fuels is the notable decrease in NOx and SOx emissions — some of the most common air-pollutants from the burning of fossil fuels.

“Air-pollutants such as sulfur are measured by ppm (parts per million). Under the International Maritime Organisation 2020 regulations implemented last year, a ship with a scrubber installed onboard is allowed to emit 35,000 ppm of sulfur into the sea when burning fossil marine fuel oil, whilst a ship without a scrubber is allowed to emit 5000 ppm of sulfur into the air,” says Clean Planet Energy’s CTO, Dr Andrew Odjo. “In contrast, Clean Planet Energy’s Marine Residual Fuel has a sulfur content of just 35 ppm, and Clean Planet Energy’s Marine Distillate has a sulfur content of just 3 ppm. This means that ships using Clean Planet Ocean’s marine distillate fuel can reduce sulfur pollution by over 1,500 times compared to ships using fossil fuel without a scrubber, and by more than 10,000 times compared to ships with a scrubber.”

Dr. Odjo adds, “There is currently no legitimate and scaled alternative compared to using carbon based fuels in the marine and aviation sector. Whereas cars are moving to electric, the lifespan of large vessels means we’ll be stuck using fossil fuel engines for many years to come. By using non-recyclable waste plastics as a feedstock for fuels in these industries, we can reduce the daily CO2e emissions by 75%, keep fossil-oil in the ground, and win valuable time in the world’s battle to hit net-zero carbon emissions.”

Despite the efforts of some marine cargo companies like Maersk, there are thousands of highly polluting cargo vessels plying the world’s oceans today. According to Clean Planet Energy, “A cargo ship can use 175,000+ litres of dirty fossil fuel tomorrow. It can release the same SOx pollutants as 300 million cars. That’s a single ship, in a single day.”

Clean Fuel For Aviation

In February, Clean Planet Energy also announced it was making clean fuel from non-recyclable plastics for the aviation industry. “On an average day across the world, you would expect 75,000 planes to take off. The aviation industry is making great strides to be greener and cleaner, but still it is calculated by the European EEA that a domestic flight, for every 1000 km traveled — the average distance between the UK and Spain — will release 250 kg of new CO2e emissions for every economy passenger onboard. Those numbers will not meet the emission cuts the world must make to stop climate change, so alternatives are needed now. Currently there is no viable commercial alternative to fossil fuel led aviation, so until there is our strategy is to assist in the reduction of carbon emissions by producing alternative & greener fuels,” says Bertie Stephens, CEO of Clean Planet Energy.

Dr. Odjo adds, “In addition to the carbon emission savings, our kerosene/jet fuel also has an 850x reduction in the poisonous NOx and SOx emissions which are globally responsible for around 9,000 early deaths a day. The CPE technology is able to handle plastics that simply cannot be mechanically recycled today, therefore also providing a solution to the waste-plastic crisis.”

The Takeaway

Clean Planet Energy is a private company, which means it does not have to make its plans and technologies public. It is all well and good to say there are two CPE factories under construction with 4 more in development, but the fact remains, everything reported to this point about the company is based on results in the lab. Transitioning to commercial production often comes with pitfalls, and at the moment these new fuels are not yet available to the marine and airline industries.

That being said, the EPA and the World Economic Forum say more than 200 million tons of non-recyclable plastic is manufactured every year. If Clean Planet Energy can get its program started, it will never run out of plastics to use in its clean fuel factories. Whether it will be cost competitive with existing fossil fuels is something we just don’t know much about at the moment. Both industries calculate the cost of fuel down to the hundredth of a penny. Under our current economic system, there is no monetary penalty for spewing mega-tons of pollution into the atmosphere or the oceans, so if these new fuels are too costly, they will find few takers in the marketplace.

Others are striving to create sustainable fuels for jet airplanes. Just recently, researchers a the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, University of Dayton, Yale University, and Oak Ridge National Laboratory published a report outlining their plan to make a “drop-in” low carbon fuel for aircraft from bio-waste. “Drop-in” means it is a direct replacement for conventional jet fuel and requires no engine modifications prior to use, an important consideration for airlines that are struggling financially.

No matter what the source, converting waste products into clean fuels will be key to decarbonizing the transportation sector fast enough to keep the Earth from becoming too hot for human habitation.

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Steve Hanley

Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Florida or anywhere else The Force may lead him. He is proud to be "woke" and doesn't really give a damn why the glass broke. He believes passionately in what Socrates said 3000 years ago: "The secret to change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new." You can follow him on Substack and LinkedIn but not on Fakebook or any social media platforms controlled by narcissistic yahoos.

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