It is well known, plastic does not belong in our lakes, rivers, and especially our oceans. A place of no return for plastic and other waste that enters the forbidden seas. What if there was something we could do to utilize that plastic already in the ocean to clean up more plastic in the ocean. Well, this is exactly what is happening because of Michael Timko from the Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts. Timko and his colleagues have proposed a plan that could decrease the amount of waste in our oceans by also utilizing the waste to convert into fuel. A news article from NewsScientist published on November 1st, 2021 gives the details on his great idea.
As much as 12.7 million tons of plastic enter into our oceans annually. This plastic can end up in our stomachs by consuming the seafood that constantly feed off of it, usually mistaking it for their actual food. Ships to decrease this plastic intoxication must use a lot of fossil fuel in order to make their voyages. Ships requiring a lot of power use and waste a lot of fossil fuel per year, almost canceling out any good efforts of cleaning up the plastic. This is where Timko and his colleagues come in.
Timko and his colleagues believe that this plastic already dumped into the ocean can be actively converted to fuel the ships while on the ocean. This would synonymously power the ships cleaning the plastic in the ocean while reducing the use of limited fossil fuel resources and the litter in the ocean. To convert plastic into fuel while on the ship, a process called hydrothermal liquefaction is used. The plastic material is broken down into polymers at extremely high temperatures of 1022º Fahrenheit while using extremely high pressure.
Because of the high quantity of plastic in the ocean, these scientists believe that not only this plastic can be collected, processed into fuel as it is being collected, but also stored in excess on the ship. Although, the process to create fuel from plastic would release carbon emissions due to the burning stage, the amount of emission would still have less of an impact on the environment than using a ship powered by fossil fuel, and returning the plastic to be recycled, further creating more carbon emission. Timko says, “This is not a silver bullet, but we think it’s an interesting way to add to the technological solutions already out there.”.
Michael Timko focuses his efforts at the Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts to chemical engineering. I do not believe he has biases, and is just using his knowledge, time, and resources in the way scientists should start focusing on, on our environment and our one Earth. The authors intended audience is anyone willing to expand their mind and learn about the new technological options we have or can create to help out plastic problem.
I believe that with the rapid increase of technology, and discovering new technological advancements every day, our society should focus these efforts and energies (no pun intended) on saving our Earth from it’s ultimate devastation. Instead of looking to advance our space exploration, or social media platforms we should start by doing the bare minimum for saving our Earth, the psychical and only place we live and can exist.