PK Clean, founded by Priyanka Bakaya from MIT, recently opened its first commercial plant in Salt Lake City, where its catalytic depolymerization system converts up to 10 tons of plastic per day into 60 barrels of oil, with zero toxic emissions.
The United States alone produced roughly 32 million tons of plastic waste in 2012, whereas only 9 percent of the plastic waste is recycled, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. The “nonrecycled” plastics, primarily is made of polystyrene and polypropylene. Recyclers toss these plastics into landfills due to little returns and pile up and never decompose. As a result, landfill space is becoming a concern. Priyanka Bakaya aims to end the landfilling of plastic with a cost-effective system that breaks down nonrecycled plastics into oil while reusing some of the gas it produces to operate.
Bakaya, says, “Plastic comes from oil to begin with, so it makes sense, instead of landfilling plastic, to convert it back to usable fuel. The goal is to end landfilled plastic waste forever — not just domestically, but also globally.”
The “continuous” system, the first of its kind in the United States, runs on a process called catalytic depolymerization, where heat and a catalyst break down plastics into crude oil to sell to refineries. About 70 to 80 percent of the product comes out as oil. Roughly 10 to 20 percent becomes hydrocarbon gas that heats the system, while the remainder is char residue.
PK Clean, partnering with Rocky Mountain Recycling, Utah’s largest recycler, built and installed its first full-scale commercial plant last year in Salt Lake City, after an initial trial in Pune, India. The plant can convert up to 10 tons of plastic per day into 60 barrels of oil, with zero toxic emissions. Produced at around $35 per barrel, the oil is sold to a nearby refinery for around $100 per barrel.
PK Clean plans to partner with other recyclers across the nation after operations for one year. Bakaya says,“The plan is to move to developing countries, where plastic waste is even more of an issue.”