Meet Faizur Rahman. This 47-year old man from Mohanpur, a bordering village in Kamalpur sub-division of Tripura’s Dhalai district, 100 Km from Agartala. He claims to have devised a working prototype for recycling single-use plastic waste into natural gas and a hydrocarbon compound, which can be used as locomotive fuel. For the sceptics, he gives demonstrations to make his point.
Mohanpur is one of the last villages in the area before the international border with Bangladesh. Faizur’s family is dependent on the remittance from his two sons working in hotel & hospitality industry at Kerala. He has a bit of ancestral land he uses to grow seasonal veggies. So, he uses most of his time thinking on low-cost innovations using resources easily available around him. His plastic recycling model came to him by accident, he says.
“My veggie plantations often ran into troubles due to plastic waste under the ground. So, I gathered these polythene and other plastic wastes from my plantation some two months back and set them on fire. Smoke billowed out of the burnt plastic but I observed some kind of sticky oil seeping out. So, I came up with a small model with a small drum to see what residue is produced. I found inflammable gas and something like petrol and diesel coming out”, he told indianexpress.com.
After the initial success, Faizur Rahman built a bigger model. He claims this full-scale machine is his working prototype for recycling single-use plastic waste into natural gas, petrol and diesel.
To prove his point, he stuffs single-use plastic polybags, plastic cups, glasses etc. into a large drum, sealed on all sides.
It has got a metal pipe fitted with it, which is sealed too by cementing, allowing it to withstand high heat. The metal piping goes some 20 metres after which it is fitted with a garden hose, which goes into a cold water-filled pot. This acts as a cooling chamber so that the gas oozing from molten plastic is ready to precipitate in three jars fitted with the garden hose one after another ahead. The whole contraption ends in yet another metal pipe, which allows the leftover gas to escape.
The drum is then closed tightly and heated at high temperature. Rahman uses bamboo pieces, firewood, old wooden shards etc. to heat the drum. It takes some 3 hours to effectively start the device.
“It takes around 300 degree Celsius to dissolve the plastic inside. But once the plastic melts, the gas comes through the pipe, gets cooled in the water pot and drops of a thick liquid smelling like petrol and diesel accumulates in the jars. Some amount of the gas escapes through the end-pipe”, Faizur explains.
He doesn’t have a necessary apparatus to trap the gas produced in the process. So, he burns it instead and uses the heat to keep the device going, thus turning it into a self-sustaining system.
Faizur’s hydrocarbon product is highly inflammable and burns bright, even if poured on water. “It’s surely petrol. I have tried it on my motorcycle and it runs on this fuel. It just needs some refining”, he said. This rural innovator has already sold 6 litres of his ‘plastic-petrol’.
Manik Miah, a local businessman, says he purchased Faizur’s ‘petrol’ at Rs. 60 per litre. “I saw him producing petrol from plastic. I used this fuel in my motorcycle. It ran well for 3-4 days but after that, my vehicle started giving troubles. I feel this is impure and should not be used in vehicles right away”, he said.
Faizur’s innovation comes at a time when Prime Minister Narendra Modi called the country to stop using single-use plastic. However, the term ‘single-use plastic’ is so far identified only by its usage advisories and not by its composition since anything below 50 microns can be included in the category.
In India, 26 thousand tonnes of plastic waste is generated every day and it comprises 18 per cent of municipal solid waste across the country. Nearly 50 per cent of all plastic products used in India is single-use and 12,970 tones of single-use plastic waste is generated across the country every single day.
The figures are much less in Tripura. This tiny NE hilly state produces 26.2 tonnes of plastic waste annually and the authorities are struggling to manage even 1 per cent of it due to issues of collection and segregation.
Though Faizur’s claims are yet to be authenticated by authorities, he is confident that his machine can offer a viable and profitable solution to single-use plastic waste. He says his prototype cost Rs.5,000 to build and it can produce 4 litres of locomotive fuel from 6.5 Kg of plastic waste.
Many videos are available on social media where detailed advisories for making similar contraptions are available. Similar efforts were earlier made in Nagaland in 2017, at Hyderabad and in neighbouring Bangladesh. But Faizur claims his ingenuity is not inspired by them.
Kamalpur Sub-Divisional Magistrate (SDM) S. Sarkar, who inspected the whole process for himself, said, “This person claims he has found a solution for plastic waste. If this works out, it will be great. But we have to authenticate his product with officials from the Directorate of Science and Technology”.
Scientific Officer S. Sarkar from the state government’s Directorate of Science and Technology told this publication that such methods are not new and have been tried before in many parts of the country. “The outcome in these experiments is hydrocarbon but it has a heavy presence of impurities. Besides, India is moving towards a zero fossil fuel target. Re-creating a fossil fuel from another fossil fuel-product (plastic) is not right. Besides, there is a huge risk of environment pollution here”, he said.
The scientist feels effective management of single-use plastic is the right way to deal with plastic waste. He also said recycling plastic waste into other products like dustbins or using it with asphalt might be experimentally considered. But producing petrol from plastic, according to Scientific Officer Sarkar, is risky.