Engineering School Innovations: Fuel from Waste Plastic

Sept. 6, 2012
Student at the University of British Columbia uses Honeywell’s Unisim design simulation software to model the pyrolysis process by which waste plastic can be turned into synthetic crude oil.

Project: Help prove the economic and procedural viability of pyrolysis to turn plastic into fuel.

College: University of British Columbia, Chemical & Biological Engineering department

Student: Bryan Gene (with help from advisor Dr. Dusko Posarac).

Engineering student Bryan Gene used Honeywell’s UniSim design simulation software to effectively model pyrolysis – a process that can be used to convert plastic waste ordinarily sent to landfills into a synthetic crude oil. Using the software’s existing database, Gene characterized non-conventional plastics and produced preliminary models for all major units of the pyrolysis process.

Two factors contributed to what Gene saw as the need for further viability testing of pyrolysis:
• Limited literature and resources are available for modeling mixed plastic pyrolysis;
• Economics of pyrolysis are highly dependent on feed stock quality and operating conditions.
Gene believes that advances in process simulations and economic analysis can help overcome these two factors and stimulate growth and development of pyrolysis.

Reasons behind Gene’s use of Honeywell’s Unisim for the pyrolysis-modeling project include:
• The software’s built-in petroleum properties and characteristics;
• Using its database to discover ways to characterize non-conventional plastics; and
• To produce accurate preliminary models for all major units of the process.

To construct his pyrolysis model, Gene tailored the UniSim Design software to the pyrolysis process.  He then modeled the pyrolysis reaction and the plastic feedstock with the software’s Oil Manager. Following this initial modeling, the separation of the synthetic crude pyrolysis product into petroleum grade cuts in a distillation column was modeled. Finally, UniSim’s Exchanger Design and Rating feature was used to construct a detailed heating model.

The video below shows Gene’s presentation. Each slide shown in the video from Gene’s presentation is descriptive and details his reasons for embarking on the project and how he did it. Please note that there is no audio associated with this video; each slide after intro slide holds for 15 seconds for ease of reading.

About the Author

David Greenfield, editor in chief | Editor in Chief

David Greenfield joined Automation World in June 2011. Bringing a wealth of industry knowledge and media experience to his position, David’s contributions can be found in AW’s print and online editions and custom projects. Earlier in his career, David was Editorial Director of Design News at UBM Electronics, and prior to joining UBM, he was Editorial Director of Control Engineering at Reed Business Information, where he also worked on Manufacturing Business Technology as Publisher. 

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