How ships could turn plastic pollution into fuel at sea


Plastic pollution in the world’s oceans is a looming environmental disaster, which a scientist is desperately trying to rectify.

While preventing plastic from entering the seas is the best way to solve the problem, some are trying to find ways to reduce the amount of plastic already present.

One could be the development of ships that suck plastic from the water and convert it to onboard “blue diesel” for propulsion, a process proposed in a scientific article published in the journal PNAS by experts at the Worcester Polytechnic Institute. and Harvard.

“Plastic waste that accumulates in the world’s oceans forms huge ‘plastic islands’ in ocean gyres,” the researchers wrote. “Removing plastic offers an opportunity to restore our oceans to a pristine state.

“To clean gyres, ships have to collect and store plastic before transporting it to port, often thousands of miles away. Instead, oceanic plastic waste can be converted into fuel on board, for example, using hydrothermal liquefaction. [HTL]. “

“It’s not a quick fix”

HTL involves breaking down plastic by heating it to around 500 ° C and subjecting it to extreme pressures of up to 4,500 PSI. The end result of this process is ‘blue diesel’, which could then be turned into usable fuel.

In the article, the researchers suggest how much blue diesel could be produced by a specialized vessel sailing through the Great Pacific Garbage Patch (GPGP). They say 11,500 tonnes of plastic waste could be disposed of each year.

But Michael Timko, author of the study, told New Scientist: “This is not a quick fix. We think this is an interesting way to add to [the technological solutions] already there. “

Ships are powered by large diesel engines, which means they are huge emitters of carbon emissions. However, as trucks and cars shift to alternative modes of propulsion, like hybrid and electric vehicles, there is no such advancement for large boats.

Data from the International Maritime Organization shows that in 2018, 2.9% of all carbon dioxide emissions worldwide came from emissions from the shipping industry.

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