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
  • COMMUNITY OUTREACH MANAGER
    High Country News (HCN) is looking for a Community Outreach Manager to reach and forge new relationships with individuals and groups who represent communities historically...
  • NEW BOOK:
    True Wildlife Tales From Boy to Man. Finding my voice to save wildlife in the Apache spirit. 365+ vivid colorful pictures. Buy on Amazon/John Wachholz
  • CHIEF OPERATIONS OFFICER
    with Rural Community Assistance Corporation. Apply here: https://www.marcumllp.com/executive-search/chief-operations-officer-rcac
  • CLIMATE JUSTICE FELLOW
    High Country News, an award-winning magazine covering the communities and environment of the Western United States, seeks applicants for a climate justice fellowship. The fellowship...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Wild Rockies Field Institute is seeking a visionary Executive Director to lead the organization in Missoula, Montana. Individuals with a proven track record in...
  • LAND AND WATER CONSERVATION DIRECTOR
    The Land and Water Conservation Director is a full-time salaried position with the Mountain Area Land Trust in Evergreen, CO. The successful candidate will have...
  • ARIZONA PROGRAM MANAGER
    National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA), the nation's oldest and largest national parks nonprofit advocacy organization seeks an Arizona Program Manager. The Arizona Program Manager works...
  • CROWN OF THE CONTINENT COMMUNITY CONSERVATION SPECIALIST
    THE WILDERNESS SOCIETY is seeking a Community Conservation Specialist, for the Crown of the Continent DEPARTMENT: Conservation CLASSIFICATION: Grade 6 Specialist/Representative (Low of $54K) REPORTS...
  • ASSISTANT FARM DIRECTOR
    About The Organization Building community through fresh vegetables is at the heart of the Sisters-based non-profit, Seed to Table Oregon. Based on a four-acre diversified...
  • CARPENTER WANTED
    CARPENTER WANTED. Come to Ketchikan and check out the Rainforest on the coast, Hike the shorelines, hug the big trees, watch deer in the muskeg...
  • DYNAMIC EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    VARD is seeking an Executive Director to lead a small legal & planning staff dedicated to the health and sustainability of Teton Valley Idaho and...
  • WATER PROJECT MANAGER, UPPER SAN PEDRO (ARIZONA)
    Based in Tucson or Sierra Vista, AZ., the Upper San Pedro Project Manager develops, manages, and advances freshwater conservation programs, plans, and methods focusing on...
  • CAMPAIGNS DIRECTOR
    Southeast Alaska Conservation is hiring. Visit https://www.seacc.org/about/hiring for info. 907-586-6942 [email protected]
  • FINANCE & GRANTS MANAGER
    The Blackfoot Challenge, located in Ovando, MT, seeks a self-motivated, detail-oriented individual to conduct bookkeeping, financial analysis and reporting, and grant oversight and management. Competitive...
  • WADE LAKE CABINS, CAMERON MT
    A once in a lifetime opportunity to live and run a business on the shore of one of the most beautiful lakes in SW Montana....
  • CONTRIBUTING EDITOR, BOOKS, CULTURE AND COMMENTARY (PART-TIME, CONTRACT)
    High Country News is seeking a Contributing Editor for Books, Culture and Commentary to assign and edit inquisitive, inspiring, and thought-provoking content for HCN in...
  • STATEWIDE COMMUNITY ORGANIZER
    ABOUT US Better Wyoming is a nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy organization that educates, organizes, and mobilizes Wyoming residents on behalf of statewide change. Learn more at...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    TwispWorks is a 501(c)3 that promotes economic and cultural vitality in the mountainous Methow Valley, the eastern gateway to North Cascades National Park in Washington...
  • CLEAN ENERGY ADVOCATE OR DIRECTOR
    Location: Helena, Montana Type: Permanent, full time after 1-year probationary period. Reports to: Director of Policy and Legislative Affairs. Travel: Some overnight travel, both in-state...
  • PROFESSIONAL GIS SERVICES
    Custom Geospatial Solutions is available for all of your GIS needs. Affordable, flexible and accurate data visualization and analysis for any sized project.