New technology to revolutionise recycling in Clarence Valley

THE FUTURE is in Grafton with new technology revolutionising the way plastics are recycled.

A PhD researcher, a mechanical engineer and an IT professional have come together to build a system that converts plastic into oils that are a cleaner and more efficient fuel than petrol and diesel.

PhD researcher Songpol Boonsawat, whose expertise is environmental engineering, materials recycling and recovery technology, said they can process the plastics that most recycling plants can't recycle.

"This type of plastic resin that is contaminated in the landfill comes from nature, but it doesn't look like the product from nature at all, it will stay there in landfill for another 200 years at least, or a thousand years, who knows," Mr Boonsawat said.

"Reverse engineering, called the thermal conversion process, can convert any organic compound produced from crude oil ... so in some way it can be turned into its origin."

Mr Boonswat dedicated nine years to finding a system that could convert plastic back to the its natural state, with the help of Eugene Koh, an IT professional, and Dennis Green, a mechanical engineer.

Eugene Keh and Songpol Boonsawat with their system that turns unwanted plastic into a more sustainable product.
Eugene Keh and Songpol Boonsawat with their system that turns unwanted plastic into a more sustainable product. Caitlan Charles

The process begins with the heating of the plastic in a vacuum chamber with an LPG gas system until the plastic is converted into a gas. It then travels through a cooling system where it turns into a liquid and is drained out to use as fuel. The left over particles are recycled back into the heating system, so the more plastic they convert the less gas needed in the process.

"The oil at the moment is in the petroleum grade... it burns longer than the normal petrol, it burns longer than diesel and produces less of the black carbon, the combustion is more efficient," he said.

Mr Boonsawat has been working with Member for Page, Kevin Hogan, to encourage the Clarence Valley Council to put the system in place at the Grafton Regional Landfill on Armidale Road in South Grafton.

"We're looking to go to the Clarence Valley Council and set up a pilot program and project at the waste facility," Mr Hogan said.

"Once that happens the production of this will go more full scale and then venture capital will be needed, investors will be needed then to run a complete project."

Eugene Keh, Kevin Hogan and Songpol Boonswat show off the oils they produce recycling plastics that are cleaner burning and longer lasting fuels.
Eugene Keh, Kevin Hogan and Songpol Boonswat show off the oils they produce recycling plastics that are cleaner burning and longer lasting fuels. Caitlan Charles

Mr Hogan added that this was a way to recycle more types of plastic.

"The great thing that I have learnt today is they are actually using plastic that other people won't use, and can't use because of the quality, so we are actually using contaminated plastic," Mr Hogan said.

The team have been negotiating with council for a year but progress has been made.

Mr Boonsawat's system is already in place in a plant in Thailand.

He is currently researching the development of recycling system for non-metallic fraction of printed circuit boards by using an innovative pyrolysis method for his PhD at Griffith University.



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