U.S Plastic-to-Fuel

The Untapped Potential of U.S. Plastic-to-Fuel in America


Every year, the United States generates over 32 million tons of plastic waste. Most plastic cannot be recycled due to contamination or the costs involved. As a result, over 90% of plastic waste ends up in landfills or incinerated each year. However, there is an alternative solution that could turn plastic waste into a valuable fuel source – plastic-to-fuel technology.

What is Plastic-to-Fuel Technology?

Plastic-to-fuel, also known as chemical recycling, is a process that converts non-recyclable plastic waste into synthetic crude oil and valuable hydrocarbon products like gasoline, diesel and naphtha. The plastic waste is subjected to thermal cracking in the absence of oxygen at extremely high temperatures ranging from 800 to 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit. This breaks the long molecular chains in the plastic polymers into shorter hydrocarbon chains similar to crude oil. Further refining allows the conversion of these hydrocarbons into drop-in fuels that can directly replace or be blended with conventional transportation fuels.

U.S Plastic-to-Fuel provides a sustainable solution to plastic waste management issues while producing energy and reducing dependence on foreign oil imports. It can process a variety of plastic types together without needing expensive sorting. And because the end products are fuels, they are highly valuable and have readily available markets. If implemented widely, plastic-to-fuel technology could substantially reduce pollution from plastic waste.

Untapped Potential in the United States

While plastic-to-fuel technology has seen huge commercial success in countries like Japan and Germany, it remains in the early stages of development and adoption in America. This is despite the massive amounts of plastic waste generated annually and significant potential benefits. Several startup companies are working to bring the first commercial plastic-to-fuel facilities online in the U.S. over the next few years. However, more support is needed from government, investors and industry players to truly scale up plastic-to-fuel and maximize its potential impact.

Some key factors currently hindering greater development include high capital costs for initial facilities, lack of dedicated plastic waste supplies, and uncertainty around future policies and incentives. But successful projects in other nations show plastic-to-fuel can be economically viable at sufficient scale. With the right market conditions and collaboration across stakeholders, the U.S. could establish a robust domestic plastic-to-fuel industry capable of processing millions of tons of waste annually. This untapped potential is too large to ignore as solutions are urgently needed to address the plastic pollution crisis.

Promising Projects Underway

Despite current challenges, progress is being made as demonstrated by several promising domestic plastic-to-fuel projects and initiatives:

– Cynar, a Cleveland-based startup, plans to build a 10,000 ton per year plastic-to-fuel plant in Indiana by 2023. It will produce 40 million gallons of synthetic crude oil annually using mixed plastic waste from municipal programs.

– Resynergi in Texas received over $1 million in grants to help commercialize its chemical recycling technology. The company aims to license modular plants across North America treating 175,000 tons of plastic per year.

– Agilyx collaborated with Fluence Energy to convert mixed plastic into diesel at Fluence’s renewable fuels plant in Camas, Washington in 2021. Over 2,000 gallons of ultra-low sulfur diesel were produced.

– The University of Kentucky is developing a small-scale plastic pyrolysis plant to produce renewable fuels and chemicals from waste plastics collected on campus. It plans to scale up operations with private partners.

– Government initiatives like the RECYCLE Act in Congress aim to provide tax incentives and financing tools to aid domestic plastic-to-fuel development and accelerate commercial growth.

While more support is still needed, these promising projects lay the foundation for a viable U.S. industry. With collaboration across sectors and continued innovation, plastic waste could become a major domestic energy source through adoption of plastic-to-fuel conversion processes nationwide.

Maximizing the Potential Through Collaboration

For plastic-to-fuel to truly reach its vast potential in the U.S., greater collaboration will be essential across all stakeholders – government agencies, recycling organizations, waste management companies, fuel producers and retailers. Developing economically-sustainable, large-scale facilities requires reliable supplies of millions of tons of waste plastic annually on multi-year contracts. This will demand coordination across regional and even state lines.

Strategic public-private partnerships could establish a cooperative framework and necessary infrastructure. For example, waste management firms could pre-process mixed plastics and guarantee regular deliveries to fuel producers in exchange for offtake agreements. State recycling programs could incorporate quotas and incentives for dedicated plastic collections. Fuel suppliers may integrate plastic-derived components along distribution networks.

With collaboration, the fragmented players across the plastics and fuel value chains could align their interests, resources, and expertise towards establishing a unified national plastic waste management system centered around chemical recycling hubs. If done successfully, America could lead the world in solving the plastic pollution crisis through innovation and turn non-recyclable plastic into valuable synthetic fuels and chemicals on a mass scale. The potential economic and environmental benefits make collaboration across stakeholder groups well worth pursuing.

As plastic waste continues piling in landfills and littering our environment, plastic-to-fuel presents a viable solution to establish a circular economy for plastic in the United States. With its immense plastic waste challenge and energy needs, the country has both problems and markets perfectly suited for large-scale domestic commercialization of this promising recycling

1. Source: Coherent Market Insights, Public sources, Desk research
2. We have leveraged AI tools to mine information and compile it