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article imagePortland, Oregon company making oil from discarded plastic Special

By Andrew Reeves     Oct 6, 2011 in Environment
Portland - Portland, Oregon-based Agilyx is turning used industrial and municipal plastic waste into synthetic crude oil - and gaining some important allies in their effort to reduce waste and create jobs.
Anywhere there is salvageable, recyclable plastic, Portland, Oregon-based Agilyx sees an opportunity.
The company operates the largest waste plastic to synthetic crude plant in North America. Over the past two years, they have produced over 120,000 gallons of synthetic crude from over 1 million pounds of plastic, according to Biofuels Digest. They have created a functional prototype that has been converting waste plastic into crude oil for the past 18 months. And while still in the development phase, the prototype is considered commercially available because of its current success in producing enough crude oil from salvaged plastic to begin selling the crude to oil refineries.
Yet this is not the business that Agilyx is in: they only mean to manufacture the plastic-to-crude operational system in order to sell it to municipalities, waste management companies - anyone that collects or possesses a large volume of salvaged plastic and would like to make money selling crude to refineries. But what better way to demonstrate the efficiency and success of their prototype to perspective buyers than actually doing what the intended buyer would do?
Founded in 2004 by Kevin DeWhitt with only $300,000 seed funding, Agilyx has now secured over $29M in funding from strategic partnerships without a model available yet for commercial sale, according to Agilyx CEO Chris Ulum.
With world oil-use sitting at 31 billion barrels annually, and an estimated 325 billion pounds of industrial and municipal plastic clogging landfills globally, Agilyx is betting that companies will gladly pay for the means to convert a waste product into the most coveted fuel source of the past century.
And while world demand for oil is not likely to decrease in the near future, and plastic waste in our landfills is as prevalent as ever, Agilyx is set to position themselves as a problem-solver. "There are intermediary steps...that can be taken to mitigate these problems," states the Agilyx website, "and Agilyx plays an important role in the larger solution to reduce plastic waste going to landfills by producing oil from this waste stream."
Here's how it works (condensed from the Agilyx website):
Specially designed cartridges are filled with prepared plastic known as “feedstock.” Hot air is heated and recirculated around the cartridge, transforming the plastic feedstock from a solid to a liquid to a gas.
Using a combination of temperature and vacuum (or negative pressure), the gases are pulled from the cartridge into a central condensing system.
In the condensing system, the gases are cooled and condensed into synthetic crude oil. Waste impurities are then removed from the stream and lightweight gases that do not condense continue further downstream.
The crude oil product leaving the condensing system is eventually transferred to an exterior storage tank where it awaits final transportation and sale to a refinery.
Beyond the waste diversion aspect, Agilyx has set their target at the "162 million tons of industrial and municipal plastic finding its way to landfills each year," which produce a yield of upwards of "200 to 240 gallons of synthetic crude oil per ton of plastic – depending on the source and quality of the plastic," according to Biofuels Digest.
In an article from the New York Times Green Blog, they noted that "one factory module can turn 40,000 pounds of plastic into 130 barrels of oil a day, and larger modules are on the way, according to Bob Schwarz, Agilyx’s chief financial officer." The ratio of plastic to crude currently sits at roughly 1 gallon of gas from 7-10 pounds of plastic.
Agilyx has also managed to secure some impressive partners in their new venture. Houston-based Waste Management has signed on as an important upstream partner, while Total has signed on as a downstream partner.
The Times writes that "while refiners would process landfill oil into final products, trash companies would largely own and operate the machinery to make the basic feedstock. Many systems would by default probably wind up on landfills near large cities," which would also indicate that municipalities operating materials recovery facilities (MRFs) may be interested in acquiring the technology in the future.
"Agilyx sells the system to industrial waste plastic generators and municipal aggregators," Ulum noted in an interview. "The process works alongside conventional recycling and would typically be co-located with a municipal landfill, recycling facility, or in some cases, large producers of waste plastics."
And for municipalities, the benefits are two-fold: reducing the space taken up in landfill by plastic while creating jobs in the processing of plastic into crude.
From an environmental perspective, the entire process is based on two realities that most environmentalists would like to see changed: namely, that plastic packaging waste is as prevalent as it is, and that demand for oil will hold steady or increase.
Ideally, systems like the one Agilyx has created should not be necessary if plastic waste in packaging and bottled water was significantly reduced, and the demand for oil lessened. But working on these two assertions, Agilyx is successfully helping solve two of societies most pressing concerns in waste diversion and fuel consumption.
And in the process, giving used plastic another life.
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Note: a previous version of the article referred to the prototype as not being ready for commercial sale. This was incorrect. In fact, the prototype is currently available for commercial sale, and has already attracted several customers.
More about energy from waste, Portland, Plastic, Oil
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