Fueling up with waste: Kenyan company makes petrol from plastic

Category: Science/Environment


Unlocking Word Meanings

Read the following words/expressions found in today’s article.

  1. durable / ˈdʊər ə bəl / (adj.) – capable of lasting for a long time without being damaged

    This table is very durable. My family has been using it for more than ten years.

  2. decompose / ˌdi kəmˈpoʊz / (v.) – to break or be destroyed into smaller parts, often due to a natural or chemical process

    It is good to recycle plastic because it does not easily decompose.

  3. founder / ˈfaʊn dər / (n.) – a person who establishes something, such as an organization or business

    Sarah dreams of being a founder of a successful clothing company.

  4. incinerate / ɪnˈsɪn əˌreɪt / (v.) – to burn something completely

    Medical waste is incinerated to avoid infection.

  5. innovate / ˈɪn əˌveɪt / (v.) – to introduce new ideas, products, or designs, usually to improve existing ones

    Scientists work hard to innovate new treatments for various diseases.


Read the text below.

What if plastic waste could power your car?

In Kenya, one entrepreneur is turning plastic waste into fuel to power cars and all kinds of engines. The complex chemical structures that make plastic so tough and durable also make plastics difficult to break down–that’s why they can take hundreds of years to decompose, if at all. Progreen Innovations Limited in Kenya is one of a growing number of companies that are converting plastic into liquid fuel.

“We take it through a pyrolysis process and we end up with usable fuel, which is an alternative fuel for petrol and diesel engines,” says James Muritu, the founder of the company.

Pyrolysis involves heating the plastic at very high temperatures in the absence of oxygen, so combustion doesn’t occur.

The process results in combustible gases and biochar. Some of the gases are condensed into a liquid called bio or pyrolysis oil. Other by-products are captured and turned into biochar, which is used to fuel the furnace, according to Muritu.

The United Nations Environment Programme estimated that only 12% of global plastic waste is incinerated and 9% is recycled. To solve part of this issue, at least locally, Muritu sources waste plastic from dumpsites or buys it from resellers.

Muritu uses the liquid fuel to run the plastic shredder, power chainsaws, and even his own car.

“The most carbon-effective way of dealing with plastic waste is not to produce plastic at all. So, we need to innovate to find alternatives to plastics. But while we have the plastics; the ones that we have already produced, we need to explore all options. And I think pyrolysis and low-tech locally produced processes like the one the innovator has come up with, should be encouraged,” said Nickson Otieno, a local climate change expert and sustainability consultant.

The majority of the toxic gases produced in the reaction are not released into the atmosphere but redirected back into the process, Otieno explains.

Muritu isn’t selling his fuel yet, as he has yet to secure approval from the Kenya Bureau of Standards.

This article was provided by The Associated Press.

Viewpoint Discussion

Enjoy a discussion with your tutor.

Discussion A

  • Nickson Otieno said that the most carbon-effective way of dealing with plastic waste is not to produce plastic at all but to innovate alternatives to plastic. What could be the benefits of prioritizing innovation for alternatives rather than stopping the use of plastic? Can innovation alone effectively reduce the environmental impact of plastic waste? Why or why not? Discuss.
  • Should we still continue producing and using plastic materials? Why or why not? In what industries do you think plastic materials are still necessary (ex. electronics, sports)? Discuss.

Discussion B

  • Businesses that use waste from dumpsites or resellers as their main resource can bring several benefits, such as environmental sustainability and cheaper costs. As a consumer, would you be willing to buy products made from waste materials? Why or why not? What concerns do you have about buying such products (ex. quality, safety)? Discuss.
  • Do you believe that products made from waste materials can compete with conventional products? Why or why not? In what ways are recyclable and conventional products better than the other? Discuss.