Fuel from Collected Plastic – Pyrolysis Machine

Hey Precious Plastic People,

with our project IN MOCEAN, we want to establish sustainable solutions for plastic trash collecting / recycling for remote coastal areas with little to no infrastructure. For those areas, where you have the possibility to sell things to e.g. tourists, the existing Precious Plastic machines are great, but we were also wondering what could be done in areas where there is no market to sell recycled plastic items.

As some of you might know, plastic can be recycled back into fuel with a process called pyrolysis. Very basically speaking, you can produce diesel and gasoline along with some side products like charcoal and parrafin and some gases (sorry, not a chemist, please provide more detail if you are ;)).

The advantage of this type of recycling: after the fuel is used, the plastic is gone…Of course, there are emissions when the fuel is being used, but you would have those at some point in the plastic’s life circle no matter what…(well, unless you just let it sit and break down to micro plastic which is not really a great alternative, either). And the fuel would have been used no matter what, but instead of using fuel from “fresh” natural recources, you recylce it from plastic trash that already exists.

Another advantage: even in the most remote places in this world, people use fuel for e.g. generators, fishing boat engines and such, so there is a demand for the product that’s being produced.

To cut a long story short: I am researching at the moment about this topic and want to do some testing and try to build a pyrolysis machine that is:

a) cheap (around 500-800$)
b) easy to build with no special tools / know how
c) small enough to be transported by a sailboat

There are already some working examples out there, so it should be possible to build one.

I can imagine that making fuel from plastic could be a more controversial topic than making baskets and beams…but I thought I would throw it out here in case somebody is interested in the topic or has some insight to share.

Also, I am wondering about legal issues…since fuel is taxed in most countries and I doubt that you will just be allowed to brew your own… Another topic for the research list ;).

Let me know if you would be interested in the project, then I would share whatever I find out during this project here.

Cheers, Nike


Hello, thank Nike. I work with virgin polystyrene which is 1% of a coal byproduct, and one of the most difficult plastics to recycle. Its only just that our efforts be alternative recycling to create fuel. I’m intrested in this process on a small scale. Please find me on Discord. User name MystroPolymeric.

@inmocean: Your philosphy is absolutely correct as is your research.


Here at FabLab Bangalore, we are going to be using the waste oil generated to feed mushroom and train them to break down the oil into useful biomass. We will be documenting the project online and will share links soon

@workbenchprojects: awesome, would love to hear some updates on that if you are willing to share.

@suzereuse: I do understand that precious plastic is about giving the plastic waste a new purpose and I think it’s great to produce things from it that the community can either use themselves or sell. But not all of the collected ocean plastic trash will be in the state that it will be reusable to make something new from it. And not all of it is PE or PP…

The idea is not to say “burn everything and make fuel from it” but rather to have a system that goes two ways: what can be used upcycle to new products, go for it. Whatever cannot be upcycled into something reusable, at least make it into something that gets used once again instead of having no use for that sort of trash.

From what I researched, 1kg of plastic leads to 1l of fuel…and you re-use 10% of the fuel to heat the plastic. 90% does not sound too bad of a catch to me. But then I have not tried it myself, yet, so all just theory so far.

By turning plastic waste into fuel, you give the trash a new purpose and you lower the demand of fuel from fresh recourses. The fuel would be produced and used no matter what, so the emissions and energy used (“normal” fuel also takes energy to be produced…does not grow in the gas station ;)) basically stay the same. Or am I seeing this wrong?

The idea is not controversial and we are already using it successfully to reduce the amount of plastic generated as waste. We are working on making a multipurpose pyrolysis system for both plastic and non plastic materials as well

Pyrolysis takes a lot of plastic and produces very little fuel. Better for poor communities is to use the trash plastic to make useful things for themselves. That’s the strength of preciousplastic. Collect, sort, melt, reform, label, use, then do it again. A village can make plastic plates from PP#5 or HDPE#2 for themselves, or bowls and other things they need.