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There is now a way to convert plastic waste into a fuel similar to diesel.

After a series of tests in a sustained three-year effort, engineer Chitra Thiyagarajan created a device and applied for a patent.

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C S M Sundaram, Thiyagarajan’s guide, said the device was the result of persistence and dogged tenacity. “It involved research, fieldwork and frequent upgrading of the design,” he said. “I may have helped her occasionally but the credit is all hers,” said Sundaram, 80, a retired professor of St Xavier’s College, Mumbai, India.

She applied for a patent for the device in June 2013. “The patent authorities checked the machine for two months and verified that it could be patented. They accepted my application in August,” Thiyagarajan said.

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Explaining how her ‘pyro-plant’ functions, she said, all plastics except PET bottles are put in a chamber and heated in the absence of oxygen over chromium micro band heaters (similar to those used in water immersion rods) to temperatures of between 350C and 375C.

The gas generated passes into another chamber with water coolant coils on two sides. It then pumps into another compartment half-filled with water. The fuel floats on the surface. Non-soluble gas that passes into a condenser can then work as an LPG alternative.

The device is not expensive and requires just three hours to generate fuel. A 5kg unit costs around $1,107 and a 25kg variant, $4,429. Each kg of plastic produces 800ml of diesel. While the user can store the diesel, the LPG generated cannot end up compressed so it must see use immediately, Thiyagarajan said.

“A similar process is used to generate fuel in China but the production costs are high and it is a time-consuming process,” Thiyagarajan said.

Indian Institute of Technology-Madras chemical engineering professor S Pushpavanam said the invention is feasible and could produce fuel.

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