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ARS Home » Midwest Area » Peoria, Illinois » National Center for Agricultural Utilization Research » Bio-oils Research » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #329284

Research Project: Industrial Monomers and Polymers from Plant Oils

Location: Bio-oils Research

Title: Catalytic thermal cracking of postconsumer waste plastics to fuels. 2. Pilot-scale thermochemical conversion

item KUNWAR, BIDHYA - University Of Illinois
item CHANDRASEKARAN, SRIRAAM - University Of Illinois
item Moser, Bryan
item DELUHERY, JENNIFER - University Of Illinois
item KIM, PYOUNGCHUNG - University Of Tennessee
item RAJAGOPALAN, NANDAKISHORE - University Of Illinois
item SHARMA, BRAJENDRA - University Of Illinois

Submitted to: Energy and Fuels
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 2/15/2017
Publication Date: 2/15/2017
Publication URL:
Citation: Kunwar, B., Chandrasekaran, S.R., Moser, B.R., Deluhery, J., Kim, P., Rajagopalan, N., Sharma, B.K. 2017. Catalytic thermal cracking of postconsumer waste plastics to fuels. 2. Pilot-scale thermochemical conversion. Energy and Fuels. 31(3):2705-2715.

Interpretive Summary: This research revealed that post-consumer waste plastics are suitable as pyrolysis feedstocks for production of alternative fuels. Pyrolysis is defined as decomposition of material at high temperatures (above 570 deg F) in the absence of oxygen. The principal benefit of pyrolysis is conversion of low energy density substrates into higher density liquid and solid fractions. In the case of waste plastics, the liquid fraction was suitable as diesel fuel, as determined by comparing its fuel properties to those of conventional petroleum diesel as well as internationally accepted diesel fuel standards. Waste plastics were studied as feedstocks because of their proliferation in the environment and accumulation in municipal landfills. The objective of the current study was to explore their utility as a feedstock for production of liquid transportation fuels, thus reducing their impact on the environment while simultaneously reducing American dependence on foreign sources of petroleum oil. These results will be important to the alternative fuels industry, municipalities with landfills and litter issues, petroleum companies, plastics manufacturers, environmental organizations, and consumers. This research may ultimately improve market penetration, availability, and public perception of domestically produced alternative diesel fuels, thus affording greater independence from imported petroleum-based fuels while simultaneously enhancing economic opportunities across America.

Technical Abstract: Synthetic gasoline and diesel fuels were prepared via catalytic and noncatalytic pyrolysis of waste polyethylene and polypropylene plastics followed by distillation of plastic crude oils. Reaction conditions optimized using a 2 L batch reactor were applied to pilot-scale production of plastic crude oil from polypropylene. The optimum conditions on the pilot-scale system were a reaction temperature of 500 deg C and a residence time of 4.7 min. Plastic crude oil yields at pilot-scale were comparable to those of the batch scale (70-80%). Plastic crude oils obtained from pyrolysis were distilled into the boiling point range of motor gasoline, diesel no. 1, gas oil, and vacuum gas oil range fractions. The elemental composition of the crude oil and its distillates were similar to the starting plastic material. Fuel properties were studied for both neat and in blends (5% and 20%) with ultralow sulfur diesel (ULSD) fuel. Excellent low temperature properties were obtained for some of the samples, as indicated by a pour point of <-74 deg C and cold filter plugging point (CFPP) of <-50 deg C. Oxidative stabilities and kinematic viscosities of plastic diesel-range samples were found to be within the limits prescribed in American (ASTM D975) and European (EN 590) petroleum standards, where applicable. In addition, the plastic diesel-range samples yielded greater energy content than ULSD. Three plastic diesel-range samples were selected for further evaluation as blend components in ULSD, as these were determined to have the best combination of fuel properties relative to the other diesel-range samples. The 5 and 20% blends exhibited superior low temperature performance relative to ULSD. In addition, oxidative stability was not negatively affected by blend ratio. All blends provided oxidative stabilities and kinematic viscosities within the ranges specified in the petrodiesel standards. Density decreased slightly and energy content increased with increasing concentration of the plastic diesel-range sample in ULSD. In summary, our results demonstrated that a plastic diesel-range sample prepared from pilot-scale pyrolysis of waste plastics followed by distillation can be used as drop-in or as blend components with ULSD without negatively effecting fuel properties of ULSD.