Ghanaian scientists tap energy fuel from plastic waste

2011 Protection Award Recipient: Africa - Middle East
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  • Researchers say Ghana generates about 200,000 tonnes of waste daily
  • They convert plastic wastes into petrol and diesel, producing two barrels a day
  • An expert says the project needs more research and government support

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[ACCRA] Scientists in Ghana have developed a technology that converts plastic waste into fuel, offering an alternative to users of fossil oil in the country.

The technology uses temperatures between 40 and 70 degrees Celsius to decompose plastic waste made of low-density polyethylene and high-density polyethylene. The result is a chemical in the form of petrol, aviation fuel or diesel.

 Researchers at the Ghana-based Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) say the country generates about 200,000 tonnes of waste, with plastics accounting for 60 per cent, therefore calling for the need to address this environmental problem.

“The American standard test proved that [the energy fuel] can be used to run any diesel or petrol engine as well as form an excellent blend with petrol of low octane number.”

Michael Kweku Commeh, Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, Ghana

Michael Kweku Commeh, the project leader and a research fellow at KNUST’s Technology Consultancy Centre (TCC), says analyses conducted on the fuel show that it has great potential in running engines.

“The American standard test proved that [the energy fuel] can be used to run any diesel or petrol engine as well as form an excellent blend with petrol of low octane number,” he tells SciDev.Net, adding that KNUST will commission the technology by the end of this month.

Commeh says the team will continue to work on the technology to apply it innovatively in most waste, such as using it to process e-waste.

Commeh adds that the Student Representative Council of the KNUST has given the research team 30,000 Ghana cedis (around US$12,500) to support them to maintain production of two barrels a day.

If the research team get additional funding to augment their research allowance — which they have been using for the project — they hope to set up various plants throughout the country, according to Commeh. 

Isaiah Nimako Baah, a member of the research team at TCC working on the project, says Ghana’s waste are materials in transition, noting that the knowledge can be enhanced to include other polymers such as those used for vehicular tyres.

But Mohammad Amin Adam, the executive director of the Africa Centre for Energy Policy, Ghana, says due to the familiarity with fossil fuel people will find it difficult to adjust to the new product easily even if it is produced in large quantities, adding that its cost could influence consumers.

“Even though [the fuel] is a new product and could be a substitute, it is only when the cost of using it is lower than the fossil fuel that people can be attracted to the use of it,” he tells SciDev.Net.

Adam says producing fuel from plastics is not a breakthrough because oil can be used to manufacture plastics and then plastics can in turn be converted into oil.

But he concedes that it is important to encourage more research and that the government needs to help so that the cost of producing the energy fuel can be cheaper.  
This article has been produced by SciDev.Net's Sub-Saharan Africa desk.