Under the leadership of Yiannis Levendis from Northeastern University, distinguished professor of mechanical and industrial engineering, a team of undergraduate and graduate engineering students developed a waste combustor, which breaks down non-biodegradable plastics to create an alternative source of fuel.
Self-sustainability is the key to the double-tank combustor design. Plastic waste is first processed in an upper tank through pyrolysis, which converts solid plastic into gas. Next, the gas flows to a lower tank, where it is burned with oxidants to generate heat and steam. The heat sustains the combustor while the steam can be used to generate electric energy.
According to David Laskowski, an undergraduate student working on the team, calculations show that the new technology has the potential of replacing up to 462 million gallons of petroleum in the United States alone, if all recycled plastics were to be processed.
“We are currently consuming highly-priced conventional premium fuels (to produce electricity). The fuel developed using this system will lower the cost of electricity for future generations,” Levendis said.