Dow Chemical Co. one of the world's largest plastics and chemicals makers will run a one-day pilot test to determine if plastic waste can be used as fuel in its operations.
The trial is set to take place by the end of July at Dow's headquarters site in Midland, Mich. Midland ranks as Dow's second-largest U.S. manufacturing location, trailing only Freeport, Texas.
During the test, plastic waste of all shapes, sizes and resin types will be burned in order to recover its energy, Dow plastics sustainability leader Jeff Wooster said in a July 21 phone interview.
Waste used in the test has been provided by Dow employees, customers and partners. Most of the waste will be composed of polyethylene and polypropylene, Wooster said, and items that already are recycled commonly such as PET and high density PE bottles and PE stretch film won't be used in the trial.
When we talk to our customers about energy recovery or chemical transformation, they want us to show that it works, Wooster explained. This study is going to be one more step in showing that this is doable and workable.
Waste used in the trial also doesn't need to be separated into individual resin types. Dow's process will use the waste itself directly as a fuel, as opposed to pyrolysis methods, in which plastic waste is heated and converted in to a chemical liquid or fuel which is then reused. Wooster added that Dow is working with technology partners to evaluate outside waste-conversion processes as well.
Dow researchers will measure the amount of energy created by the plastic waste used in the test to see how much it would reduce Dow's use of natural gas. If the test is successful, Wooster said the next step would be to find a way to implement the process on a larger scale.
Plastic waste is converted into energy at many locations around the world, but the practice has not caught on in the U.S. for a number of reasons.
It's a combination of government policies and economic drivers, Wooster said of that split. In Japan, there's no landfill space available, so they have to reuse everything that they have. In northern Europe places like Germany and Denmark they also have less landfill space than we have.
Dow's effort is significant, since plastics-related business accounted for about 40 percent of Dow's $46.6 billion sales total in 2009. Basic plastics including PE and PP ranked as Dow's single-largest operating segment, with about 21 percent of 2009 sales.