Industries News

Melting Plastics in Biodiesel Cleaner Than Recycling Them?

We are used to throwing our garbage in the bin, dispose it, and then forget it (and pay the monthly garbage collecting tax). What we often hear is that piles of garbage have saturated square kilometers in big cities, and that by making us comfortable, the garbage company (and, indirectly, us) pollutes the soil and the environment on a very large scale.

The main problem with garbage is that some of it would decompose in several hundreds or thousands of years, such as plastics. The problem that arises is the following choice we have to make: either burn those plastics very efficiently, create some air pollution and energy, or recycle them. Recent news show that it’s three times more efficient to recycle than to burn the garbage. Still…

There is one kind of plastic that doesn’t seem to obey the same rule: polystyrene. Mechanical engineers from Iowa State University in Ames have proved how they can boost the power of biodiesel by dissolving polystyrene cups in it. Song-Charng Kong, a co-author of the experiment, says: “A polystyrene cup will dissolve almost instantly in biodiesel, like a snowflake in water.” He also says that the plastic doesn’t break down as well in petroleum-based diesel and other liquid fuels.

Until the threshold of 5% in polystyrene concentration, there is an equal amount of power increase in a tractor engine they experimented with. Over that limit, there’s a drop in power.

Of course, burning polystyrene cannot be as clean as burning clean biodiesel, but the researchers say they will work on the engines’ fuel injection system to yield a more complete burn and fewer emissions.

The industry of biodiesel is not properly developed everywhere, and the biodiesel itself is debated, some saying it does more harm than good in the long run. Melting plastics into biodiesel to burn them down is still a temporary solution, and not one we should adopt for our vehicles. Maybe big and efficient power generators could take advantage of this change, as they are fewer than cars, and the technology would be easier to implement, but it’s still a compromise. Getting rid of all those polystyrene piles in exchange to creating electricity for future electric cars would be a more equitable bargain.
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