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Powering Ships with Plastic in Amsterdam

Image: United Nations Environment Programme

Shailaja A. Lakshmi

In the Port of Amsterdam, a new factory is being built that could revolutionize the way we dispose of plastic waste. Utilizing groundbreaking technology, the facility will use previously unrecyclable plastic to create fuel for diesel powered cargo ships.

The group behind the facility is Bin2Barrel, a Dutch company founded in 2012 by waste management entrepreneurs Floris Geeris and Paul Harkema. While the chemical recycling technology used in the past has worked, Bin2Barrel is the first company to utilize it commercially.
Thanks to a partnership with the Port of Amsterdam and a grant from the Dutch government, the plant is expected to begin operations by the end of 2018. If all goes well, this will be the first of four such 'plastic to fuel' factories to be built near the port. In the initial year it's estimated that 35,000 tonnes of garbage will be converted into 30 million litres of fuel, giving value to materials that would otherwise go to waste.
The project provides a multitude of environmental benefits across the entire value chain. The Port of Amsterdam estimates an annual 57,000 tonnes reduction of CO2 emissions.
The most obvious benefit is in waste disposal. Plastic used by the factories is not suitable for traditional recycling and until now it was either burnt or ended up in landfills. By converting it to fuel, the plastic gets a new life and doesn't enter the environment as trash.
The other major benefit is in the actual fuel produced by the plant, which is being sold to the maritime industry. Traditional diesel requires massive amounts of energy to extract, transport and eventually burn. Because it bypasses the traditional production process, diesel made at the Bin2Barrel factory will emit 80 per cent less CO2. It also provides an alternative to bio-fuels, which require large amounts of land and resources to produce.
Critics of waste to energy argue that this sort of technology impedes the growth of truly renewable forms of power, such as solar and wind. However, the proponents of such recycling models argue that factories such as these are necessary, as they offer a more environmentally friendly option than those reliant on fossil fuels and at the same time address the ever growing plastic pollution challenge.
Roon van Maanen, Head of Circular & Renewable Industry at the Port of Amsterdam, commented on why this factory is so important. "The use of and the lack of a proper processing of plastic cause massive pollution worldwide. Bin2Barrel introduces innovative and urgently needed technology that will enable us to make use of a currently non-recyclable flow of waste in a manner that makes perfect sense. By creating a new product from an otherwise problematic waste, this factory will help the Port transition towards a circular economy."
It goes without saying that to ensure a sustainable future, we need to move away from fossil fuels. The founders of Bin2Barrel acknowledge this and see 'plastic to fuel' as an intermediate step. The end game of the company isn't to be a major fuel producer, but instead turn towards recycling the plastics and advocate for a circular economy.
The company's ultimate goal is "the implementation of chemical recycling, in order to enable the creation of new plastics." Once the technology is advanced Bin2Barrel wants to focus on breaking plastic waste down to valuable chemical components, so it can then be used again in entirely new products.

Jul 13, 2018

 

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