Irish pioneering waste fuel technique

A county Laois company is pioneering the conversion of waste into fuel, which is welcome at a time of high charges for imported oil, petrol and other energy sources.

The company is using modern scientific methods to make the best of waste dumped in landfills by turning used plastic into diesel, petrol and kerosene.

Could waste soon be fuelling our cars? The idea seems far-fetched given that we import 98% of our transport fuel. An upside of frugal times is that people consider every means of saving money and there’s potential in waste-to-fuel.

Doctorate students are researching in the area; in University College Cork, they have published work in the latest issue of The Boolean.

One student, James Browne, says Ireland has the potential to develop a significant bio-gas industry with benefits for society and the environment.

The notion of treating potentially polluting wastes is not new. In the late 1800s, street lamps in east London were powered by bio-gas from sewage sludge. The process was unreliable.

In recent years, great improvements in understanding biological activities have led to the opening of bio-gas plants across Europe. These plants recover energy from wastes in the form of methane gas, using food and garden waste, slaughterhouse waste and slurries.

Browne, who is studying under Dr Jerry Murphy in UCC’s civil and environmental engineering department, says while Ireland has progressed in generating electricity from wind, it has been difficult to meet energy targets for heat and transport.

He says there is significant potential for energy generation through the use of wastes collected from local authorities, businesses and industry, including breweries and the agri-food sector. “It is estimated that Ireland could easily supplement 3.5% of transport energy from renewable gases from wastes, while the additional potential from surplus grassland (2.5% of total grassland) could fulfil the 10% renewable energy target in transport for 2020.” The company in Laois is setting up what is claimed to be the world’s first plant to convert end-of-life plastic into diesel. Headed by Portlaoise man Michael Murphy, Cynar is attracting attention for the way it is turning landfill waste plastic into diesel, petrol and kerosene.

In 2010, Cynar began operating a facility capable of processing ten tonnes of waste plastic a day, turning each tonne into 700 litres of diesel, 200 litres of petrol and 100 litres of kerosene.

Until now, millions of tonnes of this end-of-life plastic had been going to landfills and incinerators globally every year. Operating at full capacity, the plant at Clonminam Business Park, Portlaoise, employs 15 full-time staff, taking in plastic from waste operators and selling the resulting fuel to wholesalers around the country.

Cynar is also negotiating contracts to build plants at locations in Britain, the US, Canada, France and Germany.

Also in 2010, SITA UK, one of the UK’s leading recycling and resource management companies, signed an agreement with Cynar to build Britain’s first fully operational plants to convert end-of-life plastic into diesel fuel.

The objective is to build 10 UK plastic-to-diesel conversion plants dealing with 60,000 tonnes of mixed plastic waste per year.

Separately, Teagasc says the latest technology could help Ireland divert slurry and organic waste from landfill sites, create rural jobs and help meet our ‘green’ electricity obligations.

Teagasc plans to build a small-scale plant at its Grange Research Centre to show farmers, the government and the banks how slurry and other ‘brown bin’ waste can be converted into bio-gas.

Germany has 6,000 full-scale plants, while Sweden, Denmark and the Czech Republic have all invested hugely in farm-scale plants.

They are now exporting the biofuel products, electricity and their technology.

With 40 to 50 plants, each costing €1.5m-€2m, Ireland could meet its EU commitments under both the landfill directive and the 2020 ‘green’ electricity goal of harnessing 16% of total final consumption from renewable sources.

Teagasc bioenergy specialist Barry Caslin says we could usefully follow the example of other EU countries, some of which offer bonuses to encourage the use of slurry.

“This would work very well in Ireland, while also solving another major problem for us as 27% of allour greenhouse gases are produced by the agri-sector. This would be a very positive use for the slurry created by Ireland’s 6.5m cattle herd, converting it into biomethane and bio-gas,” Caslin says.

Source: Irish Examiner

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