Race For Water – Converting Plastic Waste To Energy

By Camille Rollin 17 February, 2020

Beyond raising awareness, Race for Water Foundation has also come up with a solution. Their Rollin expands

With most plastic waste fragmented into tiny particles, a large-scale clean-up of the oceans is unrealistic; but land-based solutions can effectively combat this 21st century scourge
Partnering with ETIA, the technology BIOGREEN® converts plastic into an energy-rich syngas to produce electricity & commercial gases while discharging waste at only 10% of incoming volume
1 machine can process 5-12 tonnes of plastic waste per day, producing up to 2.5MWh/tonne of electricity; pilot projects already set up in Peru, Dominican Republic, Malaysia & more

Following the first Race for Water Odyssey, an expedition launched by the Race for Water Foundation in 2015 to make the first global assessment of the plastic pollution of our oceans, the findings are conclusive: plastic pollution is everywhere. There is no 7th continent, nor is there a plastic island, rather there is a soup of plastic waste that drift at the mercy of the oceanic gyres.

A large-scale clean-up of the oceans is simply unrealistic… solely land-based solutions needed

Only a small proportion remains visible on the surface of the water. The bulk of it has sunk or fragmented into infinitesimally small particles. A large-scale clean-up of the oceans is simply unrealistic then. Solely land-based solutions can effectively combat this 21st century scourge.

How? Firstly, by encouraging everyone to reduce plastic waste and by pushing for more recycling. Also, by proposing new waste management models with sustainable economic, social and environmental impacts.

Only 15 to 20% of plastic waste is currently collected for recycling; more than half of which cannot be recycled

The fragility of the current recycling model hinders its development. Only 15 to 20% of plastic waste is currently collected for recycling. More than half of these collected materials cannot be recycled for health, safety, quality and contamination reasons. In addition, the prohibitive cost of recycling favours the use of virgin plastic.

Global issue, local solution

Race for Water plan: To encourage collection and convert plastic waste into a marketable energy resource.

In anticipation of a circular plastic economy that is sustainable and environmentally friendly, Race for Water presents a realistic solution that, deployed on a large scale, can put an end to most of the contamination of the oceans from plastic waste.

We offer a high temperature pyrolysis tech to transform non-sorted plastic waste into electricity

We offer high temperature pyrolysis technology developed to transform non-sorted plastic waste into electricity. These units installed in containers can be deployed close to inhabited areas and allow even isolated communities, such as small cities or islands, to independently manage their waste and their energy production.

The income generated by the sale of electricity provides a source of remuneration

The income generated by the sale of electricity provides a source of remuneration to pay street collectors or to reduce waste management costs. The value generated directly benefits local communities, be it on an economic, social or environmental level. Find out more in a video here.

An optimal solution to transform plastic waste into electricity: BIOGREEN® BY ETIA

After two years of research, we partnered with the French company ETIA to optimise their high-temperature pyrolysis technology, called Biogreen ®, for non-sorted plastic waste.

Biogreen® is an innovative, patented process for continuous thermochemical conversion of biomass and waste residue that allows torrefaction, pyrolysis and high temperature pyrolysis treatment of various bulk materials.

This leading-edge technology can recover the high calorific value of plastic litter and convert it into an energy-rich synthesised gas (syngas) applicable for the production of electricity, methane and hydrogen. Hydrocarbons composing plastic waste naturally break apart when exposed to heat. High temperature pyrolysis in the absence of oxygen induces this breakdown that creates new products: gases, liquids and solids.

The process is based on an electrically heated screw conveyor: the Spirajoule©. Designed for advanced thermal treatment in high temperature pyrolysis conditions (up to 800°C), this technology allows perfect control of temperature and speed to maximise plastic conversion into syngas.

Ultimate waste is minimised with a target of maximum 10% of incoming volumes

Thus, generated syngas goes through a refining process composed of different steps of filtration, scrubbing & condensation. This crucial refining step aims at eliminating dust, fine particles, tar, condensable gases, and other pollutants such as chlorine. The refined syngas can then be used as fuel to internal combustion engine to provide electricity or simply heat. Ultimate waste is minimised with a target of maximum 10% of incoming volumes.

Compact & modular, the equipment can be containerised and set-up in as little as a few weeks, which makes it easy to integrate locally in highly contaminated area and close to the population limiting transport and logistic issues.

One machine can process between 5 & 12 tonnes of plastic waste per day

One machine can process between 5 and 12 tonnes of plastic waste per day, which is adapted to a population of 50,000 to 200,000 inhabitants and produce up to 2.5MWh/tons. According to the context, a single unit is enough to supply electricity to close to 6000 families.

A plastic waste to energy site can be set with several Biogreen® working in parallel allowing the treatment of higher capacities.

Biogreen® meets the strictest environmental standards and is CE certified. These small & medium capacities solutions favour decentralised waste management and energy production which are recognised for their efficiency, as well as their social and environmental benefits.

This innovative technological approach also demonstrates that remote plastic waste can be an additional resource in energy transition. Find out more in a video here.

Pilot project towards scalability

The first industrial machine is now operating on a French showroom site close to Paris to showcase its energetic performance and assess its environmental footprint.

A series of “Proof of Concept” projects are under study in Peru, Dominican Republic, Malaysia & more

At the same time, a series of “Proof of Concept” projects are under study in Peru, Dominican Republic, Easter Island, New Caledonia and Malaysia, to showcase the pertinence of the business model, the social benefits and the positive environmental impact of the plastic waste to energy value chain for places that are strategic for our Ocean: islands, rivers and coastal cities.

By 2025, we are keen for our model to be replicated worldwide so as to have a sustainable impact in the following domains:

Environmental outcomes

  • Stop the flow of plastic waste reaching our oceans 
  • Protect thousands of marine species and consequently human health 
  • Preserve phytoplankton which produces half of the planet’s oxygen 

Economic value creation

  • Provide a sustainable source of energy
  • Profitable model with a local impact 
  • Improve the waste management efficiency for the local communities and reduce costs

Social impacts

  • Create thousands of jobs for of waste collectors
  • Provide a better quality of life and health improvement
  • Educate for a change in human behaviour and improve environmental awareness

Joint action at an international level is essential to address the perils facing our oceans. Our plastic waste to energy model aims to tackle the issue of marine plastic pollution on land, by preventing plastic waste leaking into the ocean in the first place. Additionally, our projects will directly improve the health and life of local communities who are often the first victims of this worldwide issue. JOIN US!


Further Reading

  • Race For Water – Fighting Plastic Pollution In Our Oceans – What does the world’s largest solar-powered catamaran have to do with ocean plastic pollution? The Race for Water Foundations’ Lee explores this sustainable solution for ocean conservation with us
  • Plastic Waste: The Vector For Change – USD13billion is the annual cost of impact of plastic pollution to our oceans. Doug Woodring, founder of Ocean Recovery Alliance, shares challenges ahead and strategies for a plastics-free ocean
  • Plastic, China & The Circular Economy – Can we avoid more plastics than fish by 2050? Only around 10% of plastics gets recycled, but this is where opportunities lie. Woodring, founder of Plasticity Forum, shares key points from the 5th annual forum on the circular future of plastic
  • Eight Million: China & The Global Plastic Challenge – Sustainable Asia’s Marcy Trent Long & Sam Bekemans share their new podcast series “Eight Million”, which looks into the plastic waste pollution issue globally & in China and what is being done. China Water Risk is featured in episode 2
  • T Park: Waste-to-Energy In Hong Kong -Hong Kong’s increasing waste load by 2030 will put tremendous pressure on its management capability.  Veolia’s Nina Cambadelis introduces T PARK, a state-of-the-art sludge treatment facility that turns waste into energy while achieving ‘zero wastewater discharge’
  • Modern Water Dispensers: Shifting Consumers Off Plastic – With Hong Kong throwing away 5.5 million plastic bottles every day, Urban Spring’s Jennie Wong explains how their network of water refill stations could be the way forward

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Camille Rollin
Author: Camille Rollin
Camille joined the Race for Water Foundation in March 2016 and is managing the ACT program of the organisation. She spends most of her time investigating on the plastic issue at each stopover of the ongoing 5-years expedition around the world on board the Race for Water solar hydrogen catamaran. She regularly meets with waste pickers, governments, companies and NGOs to share knowledge and put together joint actions to fight plastic pollution in the ocean.
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