Andy Lera is a modern-day alchemist.
The Yukon innovator has figured out how to turn plastic into black gold.
And he could do it for cheap.
Using a machine that would fit on a binder, Lera could turn one kilogram of waste plastic into one litre of oil at a cost of 14 cents a litre.
Right now, oil in Whitehorse is going for roughly 1.30 cents a litre, plus GST.
A bigger model of the machine, roughly the size of a compact car, can convert up to 50 kilograms of plastic into 50 litres of oil in just under an hour.
Lera discovered the Japanese technology online.
Now he wants to ship some of these machines to the territory, and the Yukon Cold Climate Innovation Centre has offered to help.
“It has huge potential,” said centre director Stephen Mooney.
“But we need to do research first to figure out what kind of volume of plastic is out there.”
Based on the amount of plastic going into the Whitehorse landfill every year, Lera estimates he’d be able to produce 1.6 million litres of oil – or 20 per cent of the territory’s consumption – annually.
But that doesn’t take into account sorting the plastic at the dump or driving it to the machine’s location, which could push up costs, said Mooney.
“That has to be assessed.”
Still, with costs starting at 14 cents a litre, it would be hard to beat.
The machine also operates at more than 100 per cent efficiency, said Lera.
In other words, “it creates 11 times more energy than it uses.”
The machine eats all types of plastic, including shrink-wrap, bags, tarps and yogurt containers.
It also consumes Styrofoam.
In fact, if it’s fed only Styrofoam, the machine will produce a liquid byproduct called styrene monomer that is used to create plastic.
“So we could potentially sell this out to manufacturers,” said Mooney.
Most of the plastics Lera is hoping to feed the machine are low-grade and don’t make recyclers any money.
“Look at how much plastic we ship south and how much oil we ship north,” he said.
“And we have no recycling for Styrofoam.”
Many people don’t bother recycling their plastics, which is why so much of it ends up in the dump, he said.
“It’s partly laziness,” he said. “But also people don’t see recycling as worthwhile.”
Lera hopes the machine will change that.
“Seeing waste turned into oil might inspire people,” he said.
Lera is looking at three different communities – Whitehorse, Mount Lorne and Haines Junction – in his initial study to see whether it’s more practical to have a machine in each community or one in a more central location.
In a community like Old Crow, which ships its recycling out, a machine that turns waste plastics into oil could make a huge difference, added Mooney.
Lera is also looking at the availability of plastics in the Yukon, at who will operate the machine and at how the oil will be sold or used.
A second machine could also be purchased to convert the oil to gas, kerosene or diesel, raising the price per litre to 40 cents.
But for now, Lera is starting small.
The study should be completed by January, and Lera plans to have at least one machine ordered by March.
“I have two children and I want to see what can be done to make a better world for them,” he said.
Contact Genesee Keevil at