Plastic to oil machine comes to Whitehorse

What if we could turn all the plastic in our landfills into oil to heat our homes and fuel our vehicles? If that sounds like a pipe dream, it's not. It's happening right here, right now, in the Yukon.

What if we could turn all the plastic in our landfills into oil to heat our homes and fuel our vehicles?

If that sounds like a pipe dream, it’s not. It’s happening right here, right now, in the Yukon.

A machine invented in Japan has been installed at P&M Recycling in Whitehorse. It can chew through 240 kilograms of plastic every day and produce enough oil to continuously heat about 70 Yukon homes.

It looks like a mad scientist’s workshop and takes over an area roughly the size of a pool table at the recycling plant’s warehouse.

Plastic that has been cut into coarse granules is fed into a trough. It then moves through various tubes and chambers.

Through the process, the plastic is heated into a liquid and then into a gas, and then cooled.

At the end, a light-coloured oil drips from a spigot into a receptacle.

The machine can process about 10 kilograms of plastic and produce about 10 litres of oil every hour, and can run continuously around the clock.

The only other byproducts include a tiny bit of carbon residue, carbon dioxide and water vapour.

The carbon dioxide emitted is equivalent to about four humans breathing normally.

Just about any plastic can be fed into the machine. Paper labels and a little dirt won’t hurt it, but the material should be relatively dry.

The electricity input costs an estimate 14 cents per litre of fuel produced.

The oil that comes out is a blend of gasoline, diesel, kerosene, and some heavy oils. It can be fed directly into an oil furnace, or could be processed further into something that could go straight into a diesel car.

The idea behind the machine is simple. When Yukon innovator Andy Lera first heard about it a year and a half ago, he thought it might be too good to be true.

“I looked at it and I thought, can this really exist, can this be true, can this process really work? Plastic, it comes from oil, but can we turn it back into oil?”

Lera experimented with his own small-scale plastic processor, which he admits was not particularly efficient or safe. But it proved that the concept works, that you can in fact turn plastic into oil.

He found a company in Japan that promised its machines could do the same thing, efficiently and on a large scale.

With a little more research, he discovered how much we need a technology like this in the Yukon.

“During the process of studying it, what I found out was that there are problems in our recycling stream,” Lera said.

“We all think it’s good to recycle, it’s good to recycle plastic. But in reality, when you go down and look at it, and find out that a lot of our plastic is being shipped out, it goes to China, it goes to India and the processing out there is not very clean.”

In some instances farmland has been re-purposed as a sorting area for plastics, said Lera.

“The plastics that they cannot process, because it’s got a paper label glued onto it or something, they’re lighting it on fire and burning in an open pile. And that’s going into the global atmosphere, it’s not just local over there.

“So this way, we’re taking a problem that we were exporting to another country, we’re processing it here in a very clean and efficient way.”

Lera’s idea has come to life thanks to funding from Cold Climate Innovation at the Yukon Research Centre and the Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency, in partnership with P&M Recycling.

They bought the machine for about $200,000 through distributor E-N-ergy, and modified it to function in a cold climate. For example, cooling in the system is done with antifreeze instead of water.

Most of the plastic we throw away is essentially worthless. Recycling centres in the south will pay for the number ones and number twos, which comprise a lot of beverage containers and related products. Polyvinyl chloride, the number three plastic, is toxic and quite nasty to deal with. No one will pay for numbers four through seven, which could make them an untapped gold mine.

“This plastic is worth zero as a plastic. What is it worth as a diesel, as a synthetic diesel? It’s probably worth way more than zero,” said Stephen Mooney, director of Cold Climate Innovation.

The goal of this pilot project is to give P&M Recycling the ability to process plastics onsite, rather than sorting it and trucking it south, while producing enough energy to heat the 600-square-foot recycling centre.

Pat McInroy, the owner of the recycling centre, estimates he will save $18,000 in annual heating costs, plus labour costs for sorting and baling the plastic, and trucking costs.

The machine should produce much more oil than is needed to heat the warehouse, and the excess could be sold.

The project will help determine the exact cost of turning plastic into oil, and how much it’s worth in the end.

The technology has been sold to commercial operations, municipalities and non-profits around the world, but this specific design is the first in the world.

Previous models were larger, less efficient and less user-friendly.

People from Alaska and elsewhere have expressed an interest in coming to Whitehorse to check out how the machine works.

“There’s potentially a million litres of oil going into our landfill a year. Why not take that and heat some homes?” asked Mooney.

Contact Jacqueline Ronson at

jronson@yukon-news.com

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

City of Whitehorse city council meeting in Whitehorse on Oct. 5, 2020. An updated council procedures bylaw was proposed at Whitehorse city council’s Jan. 18 meeting that would see a few changes to council meetings and how council handles certain matters like civil emergencies. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Whitehorse procedures bylaw comes forward

New measures proposed for how council could deal with emergencies

A Yukon survey querying transportation between communities has already seen hundreds of participants and is the latest review highlighting the territory’s gap in accessibility. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Multiple reports, survey decry lack of transportation between Yukon communities

A Community Travel survey is the latest in a slew of initiatives pointing to poor accessibility

Mobile vaccine team Team Balto practises vaccine clinic set-up and teardown at Vanier Catholic Secondary School. Mobile vaccine teams are heading out this week to the communities in order to begin Moderna vaccinations. (Haley Ritchie/Yukon News)
Mobile vaccine teams begin community vaccinations

“It’s an all-of-government approach”

The now empty lot at 410 Cook Street in Whitehorse on Jan. 19. As developers move forward with plans for a housing development that would feature 16 micro-units, they are asking city council for a zoning change that would reduce the number of required parking spaces. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Developer asks for zoning change

Would reduce the number of required parking spaces

The Liard First Nation is preparing to enter negotiations for self-governance with the territorial and federal governments. (Jackie Hong/Yukon News file)
Liard First Nation preparing to enter self-governance negotiations with Yukon, federal governments

Chief Stephen Charlie seeking an agreement separate from “dead end” UFA

A file photo of grizzly bear along the highway outside Dawson City. Yukon conservation officers euthanized a grizzly bear Jan. 15 that was originally sighted near Braeburn. (Alistair Maitland/Yukon News file)
Male grizzly euthanized near Braeburn

Yukon conservation officers have euthanized a grizzly bear that was originally sighted… Continue reading

Mayor Dan Curtis listens to a councillor on the phone during a city council meeting in Whitehorse on April 14, 2020. Curtis announced Jan. 14 that he intends to seek nomination to be the Yukon Liberal candidate for Whitehorse Centre in the 2021 territorial election. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Whitehorse mayor seeking nomination for territorial election

Whitehorse mayor Dan Curtis is preparing for a run in the upcoming… Continue reading

Gerard Redinger was charged under the <em>Civil Emergency Measures Act</em> with failing to self-isolate and failing to transit through the Yukon in under 24 hours. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
Man ticketed $1,150 at Wolf Creek campground for failing to self-isolate

Gerard Redinger signed a 24-hour transit declaration, ticketed 13 days later

Yukon Energy, Solvest Inc. and Chu Níikwän Development Corporation are calling on the city for a meeting to look at possibilities for separate tax rates or incentives for renewable energy projects. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Tax changes sought for Whitehorse energy projects

Delegates call for separate property tax category for renewable energy projects

Yukon University has added seven members to its board of governors in recent months. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
New members named to Yukon U’s board of governors

Required number of board members now up to 17

Yukonomist Keith Halliday
Yukonomist: Your Northern regulatory adventure awaits!

“Your Northern adventure awaits!” blared the headline on a recent YESAB assessment… Continue reading

Yukoner Shirley Chua-Tan is taking on the role of vice-chair of the social inclusion working group with the Canadian Academy of Health Sciences’ oversight panel and working groups for the autism assessment. (Submitted)
Canadian Academy of Health Sciences names Yukoner to panel

Shirley Chua-Tan is well-known for a number of roles she plays in… Continue reading

Most Read