Engineering Minute

Engineering Minute – Turning Plastic Waste Into Jet Fuel

A group of researchers at Washington State University have developed a way to turn plastic waste into jet fuel. The process involves melting plastic waste with activated carbon at high temperatures. The results of the group's work was recently published in the journal Applied Energy.


“Plastic is hard to break down. You have to add a catalyst to help break the chemical bonds. There is a lot of hydrogen in plastics, which is a key component in fuel," says Hanwu Lei associate professor at Washington Statue University. “We can recover almost 100 percent of the energy from the plastic we tested. The fuel is very good quality, and the byproduct gasses produced are high quality and useful as well.”

WSU associate professor Hanwu Lei, left, and his team, in the Bioproducts, Sciences and Engineering Laboratory working on turning plastic waste into jet fuel
WSU associate professor Hanwu Lei, left, and his team, in the Bioproducts, Sciences and Engineering Laboratory. Credit: Washington State University


From the Washington State University article: "In the experiment, Lei and colleagues tested low-density polyethylene and mixed a variety of waste plastic products, like water bottles, milk bottles, and plastic bags, and ground them down to around three millimeters, or about the size of a grain of rice.

The plastic granules were then placed on top of activated carbon in a tube reactor at a high temperature, ranging from 430 degree Celsius to 571 degrees Celsius. That’s 806 to 1,060 degrees Fahrenheit. The carbon is a catalyst, or a substance that speeds up a chemical reaction without being consumed by the reaction.

Once the carbon catalyst has done its work, it can be separated out and re-used on the next batch of waste plastic conversion. The catalyst can also be regenerated after losing its activity.

After testing several different catalysts at different temperatures, the best result they had produced a mixture of 85 percent jet fuel and 15 percent diesel fuel."


Read more about turning plastic waste into jet fuel at Washington State University