Battling plasticulture

An Oregon company turns plastic waste into fuel.

  • Oregon-based Agilyx turns shredded plastic waste into synthetic crude oil.

    Cathy Cheney /Sustainable Business Oregon
 

In 2001, Kevin DeWhitt packed an office cubicle from floor to ceiling with plastic, melted it, filled a truck's gas tank with the liquid goo, and then drove around the perimeter of Kelso, Wash., twice.  What, he wondered, if this could be done on a much larger scale? Three years later, the chemist formed Agilyx in Tigard, Ore.

Turning plastic into fuel isn't novel; energy- and land-restricted areas of Asia have long done it, for example. But making Agilyx commercially viable in the U.S. required millions in investment and the cooperation of waste managers and refineries. DeWhitt kept it simple: Create technology to go where the waste stream is, and let refineries transform the oil into usable road fuels.

"If we can reuse the hydrocarbons in plastic," says DeWhitt, Americans won't have to drill for more oil "to replace what we buried in a landfill." The petroleum can also be used to create other materials that aren't burned. The U.S. recycles less than 10 percent of plastics, mostly bottles; the rest gets tossed into landfills or shipped to Asia.

The Agilyx system used by Waste Management in north Portland, Ore., can take up to 50 tons per day of dirty, oily, hard-to-recycle mixed plastic, such as the plastic film and tubing used in agriculture. Heat from the reactor breaks up the long, heavy polymer chains and converts them to a gas. After cooling in the condenser, light, sweet crude oil oozes out. The byproducts include water, small quantities of inert char and burnable gases, leaving a trivial environmental footprint.

Last year, the U.S. consumed around 18.5 million barrels of oil per day. Agilyx's setup can capture enough fuel to fill more than 200 SUV tanks each day. In addition to Waste Management, companies in Minnesota and Georgia have already adopted Agilyx's technology. At least four other U.S.-based plastics-to-oil companies are trying to get into the game on a commercial scale, and several others with operations overseas hope to expand into the U.S. There's plenty of waste for everyone, says DeWhitt. "Let's just make sure between us we get it all."

High Country News Classifieds
  • NEW AGRARIAN APPRENTICESHIP
    Quivira Coalition's 2020 New Agrarian Apprenticeships in Regenerative Ranching and Farming -Apprenticeships run 4/20 - 11/20 Applications accepted 10/15/19 - 12/1/19 NAP partners with skilled...
  • PHILANTHROPY DIRECTOR
    Wilderness Workshop seeks a full time Philanthropy Director to raise funds for our team. Learn more: www.wildernessworkshop.org
  • EXECUTIVE ASSISTANT WITH WESTERN RESOURCE ADVOCATES
    Western Resource Advocates (WRA) seeks an enthusiastic and organized problem solver to join our growing team as an Executive Assistant. The Executive Assistant is instrumental...
  • WYOMING OUTDOOR COUNCIL
    Two positions: Development Director OR Development Writer, Communications Director. Full job descriptions at https://wyomingoutdoorcouncil.org/careers.
  • CONSERVATION PROJECT MANAGER
    Great Land Trust seeks to hire a Conservation Project Manager. Position is full-time, based in Anchorage, Alaska. First review of applications will be on October...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Eagle Valley Land Trust Executive Director Position Description Summary of Position: The Executive Director, working with and reporting to the Board of Directors, has overall...
  • FINANCE & LOGISTICS COORDINATOR
    The Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory, founded in 1928 as an independent nonprofit organization, is a biological field station located near Crested Butte, Colorado. Our primary...
  • DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR
    See Full Job Description
  • DEVELOPMENT COORDINATOR
    Position: Development Coordinator Responsible to: Executive Director Time Commitment: 15-20 hours per week, or as otherwise agreed upon General Description: The Development Coordinator assists the...
  • EDUCATION CENTER MANAGER
    Friends of Cedar Mesa seeks a full-time Education Manager for the Bears Ears Education Center to provide day to day operational and administrative oversight. See...
  • TROUT UNLIMITED SCP SOUTHWEST REGIONAL DIRECTOR
    Seeking to hire an experienced advocate/manager to oversee the organization's sportsmen/women-driven advocacy in Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona. Open until filled
  • PROGRAM MANAGER
    for northern AZ collaborative conservation ranchlands group
  • AMAZING PROGRAM DIRECTOR
    If you're an amazing Program or Education Manager looking for an exciting and fulfilling position with an organization that makes a difference in the community,...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Partners are seeking an experienced and energetic Executive Director who is excited about the opportunity to lead our growing organization! A full description of the...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    High Country News Seeks an Executive Director to advance its mission, grow its audience and influence, and strategically and sustainably guide the organization through a...
  • 2 PROPERTIES ON THE WESTERN EDGE OF THE GILA WILDERNESS
    Organic farm, hot springs, San Francisco River runs through both. [email protected]
  • CHUCK BURR'S CULTUREQUAKE.COM BLOG
    Change will happen when we see a new way of living. Thinking to save the world.
  • SOCIETY FOR WILDERNESS STEWARDSHIP BOARD MEMBER
    Join the SWS board and help us broaden, diversify, and engage the wilderness community.
  • NEW MEXICO BIRDER'S PARADISE.
    Fully furnished 2B/2B home near Bosque del Apache NWR, great for nature lovers.
  • COMING TO TUCSON?
    Popular vacation house, furnished, 2 bed/1 bath, yard, dog-friendly. Lee at [email protected] or 520-791-9246.