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Canadian study looks at making fuel from marine litter

By: Michael Lauzon

February 12, 2014

Converting plastic marine litter to fuel is a lot like getting fuel from litter collected from terrestrial sources, according to a recent Canadian study.

The study, organized by Upcycle the Gyres Society, collected plastic marine litter from the shoreline of northern Vancouver Island in 2013. It found 99 percent of the litter was suited to pyrolysis, the application of heat in the absence of oxygen to create liquid fuel. The marine litter seemed unaffected by exposure to salt water.

Canadian Plastics Industry Association is supporting UpGyre’s work on marine litter. The next step is studying the collection of marine litter along Canada’s west coast and converting it to fuel for remote communities, where fuel is typically imported at great expense.

The marine litter study showed a liter of fuel similar to diesel could be obtained from a kilogram of plastic with the input of 1 kiloWatt per hour of electricity. Scaling up the pyrolysis step reduces the per-liter cost of fuel. Even at a low production rate of 20 kilograms of plastic pyrolysis per hour, the fuel cost is about C$0.99 (US$0.90) per liter, less than the local cost of C$1.20 (US$1.09) per liter for diesel fuel in Whitehorse, Yukon.

The study used a Blest pyrolyser in Whitehorse. Test results were analyzed by laboratories in Canada, the United States and Japan.