Energy Recovery Option for Non-Recyclable Plastics Study

The Dow Chemical Company of Midland, Michigan has demonstrated the use of non-recyclable plastic can be used to generate energy instead of being sent to landfill.

24 May 2011

The Dow Chemical Company of Midland, Michigan has demonstrated the use of non-recyclable plastic can be used to generate energy instead of being sent to landfill.

According to the company the pilot test found that 96% of available energy was recovered after incinerating 578 pounds (262 kg) of used plastic in a kiln at one of its waste treatment facilities.

While most thermoplastics can be reprocessed, there currently are limited end-of-life options for certain types of used plastic packaging, such as some flexible films and containers made from a combination of materials.

Linear low-density polyethylene (LLDPE) scrap film generated in one of Dow's extrusion laboratories was used in the test. The film was the same type commonly used for packaging food and consumer products.

The energy recovered is claimed to be the equivalent to 11.1 million BTUs of natural gas, and was used as fuel for Dow's incinerator during the test. The trial was completed in compliance with regulatory permits.

The company says that the purpose of the test was to collect data showing that used plastic can provide a valuable source of energy and ultimately help reduce the need for natural gas or other fossil fuels.

According to the company, the study results demonstrate that almost all of the available energy stored in used plastic can be captured and reused as opposed to being buried in a landfill.'

Jeff Wooster, plastics sustainability leader for Dow's North American plastics business said: "Energy recovery and chemical transformation do not replace the traditional means of recycling plastics - they extend and complement it."

"The U.S. lags behind many other countries that capture trapped energy from recovered materials. Recovering embedded energy in recycled plastic is a 'best-in-class' approach used in Europe and other regions. Our next step is to help find a way to scale up this more sustainable practice in the United States," Wooster explained.

The sustainability advantages of energy recovery include utilising natural gas or oil first to make plastics, which can then be used, reused, recycled and recovered at end-of-life, capturing the energy content of the original feedstock. Energy recovery allows more utility captured from every natural gas or oil molecule.

The recycle-to-energy recovery trial provided the concept validation for the submission and approval of one of several energy efficiency projects recently chosen to receive funding through Dow's Energy Intensity Improvement Fund.

The $100 million investment fund targets Dow projects designed to help reduce energy usage and greenhouse gas emissions.