The New York Times has a cool story today on a new technology for making a "fuel-latent plastic." I'll link to the version in the International Herald Tribune, since there are no password issue to access the story there. "It can be used like ordinary plastic, for packaging or other purposes, but when it is waste, it can easily be turned into a substitute diesel fuel. The process does not yet work well enough to be commercial, but the U.S. Defense Department was impressed enough to give $2.3 million for more research." According to the story, the researcher on the project is Richard Gross, a professor of chemistry at Polytechnic University in Brooklyn. First he turns plant oils into bioplastics. Then, at the end of the useful life of the plastic, he uses an enzyme to break down the plastic into fuel.
Conversion begins with shredding the plastic. An office paper-shredder will do, Gross said. Then the shreds are immersed in water with a small amount of the enzyme. In three to five days, the process is complete, and the biodiesel floats to the top.Unlike a lot of the stories I see on plastic being converted to fuel, this one looks like it could have some legs. Probably not on the commercial scale, because I doubt it is cost-effective compared to recycling or waste-to-energy incineration. But the military application could work, for example, aboard Navy ships and submarines.