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How a Swiss startup turns one kilo of plastic into one liter of fuel

  • By The Swiss Times
  • 27 July 2023
A Swiss start-up has developed a machine that can break down plastic molecules to make fuel. The concept is attracting interest as far afield as French Polynesia.
How a Swiss startup turns one kilo of plastic into one liter of fuel
HVO’s plan will take discarded plastic and turn it into fuel (Credit: SwissTech).

Worldwide, only 9% of plastic waste is recycled, while a shocking 22% is dumped in uncontrolled landfills, incinerated in open pits or discharged into the terrestrial or aquatic environment, especially in poorer countries. Swiss entrepreneur Claude Etique and engineer Samuel Moussa, no longer want to stand idly by. Their start-up company, HVO, has developed a new technology that converts non-recyclable plastics into fuel with unprecedented efficiency.

Making technology more efficient

While the pyrolysis technique in question has been around for more than 70 years, the new process developed by the Swiss-based company offers a significant yield – 1 kg of plastic for every liter of fuel.

I travel a lot in Africa and when I see the problem of plastic waste all over the planet, it’s getting worse and worse. The idea is to do something intelligent with it. Since you can produce fuel from it, you can use it to generate electricity and become energy self-sufficient.

Claude Etique, co-director HVO

HVO offers an innovative solution for the local recovery of plastics using a low temperature pyrolysis process (around 500°C). In this process, long plastic molecules are heated to break them down and then recombine into a liquid with a high energy value. In practice, the machine will crack the molecules to separate the hydrogen and carbon using a reactor. Several refining scenarios can be defined depending on the end products required:

  • Production of fuels (petrol, diesel) from pyrolysis oils
  • Production of fuels and paraffin based materials
  • Production of synthesis gas hydrogen production
How a Swiss startup turns one kilo of plastic into one liter of fuel
The application of the HVO method in developing countries could mean reducing landfills like the one in Indonesia pictured above (Keystone SDA).
A mobile solution for developing countries

This technology is a response to the challenge of pollution, especially in developing countries that are suffocating under the weight of waste. According to the co-founders, the authorities of Bora-Bora in French Polynesia have already expressed an interest in purchasing such a machine.

HVO plans to adapt its current model to create a small version that can be transported in containers. This would allow the machine to be used on a boat, for example. Representatives from the South Pacific island nation are expected to visit Switzerland later this year to confirm their intention.

This article was reprinted with permission from SwissTech.

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