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TOPIC: AN INVESTIGATION ON THE PRODUCTION OF FUEL USING PLASTICS

Introduction

The study focuses on whether plastics are able to produce fuel which can be
used as an alternative source of fuel. The fuel is going to be obtained
through the burning of plastics and distillation of plastic as the last stage.

BACKGROUND OF THE STUDY

Most people have concerns about littered plastics that are include shopping
bags, carrier bags, plastic containers and many more. Most often these
plastics are intended for single use, to carry item from the shops to the
home. After that they are thrown way as litter. Plastics are resistant to the
environment, being able to sustain a variety of weather conditions without
disintegration (non-biodegradable).

The raw materials that are used to manufacture and produce plastics are
inexpensive and this lead to plastics being produced in large quantities
causing a thereat to the environment.

Looking into the environment people are causing deforestation because of


insufficient supply of electricity and other energy sources. The researcher is
going to research and find out whether plastics are able to produce fuel that
can be used as an alternative source of energy so that people at large can
conserve the environment.

From the research done by RAMSDEN(1993) both plastics and the already
existing fuels like petrol and paraffin are all derived from petroleum and they
are separated by fractional distillation. Plastics and modern day fuels have a
similarity in that they produce the same products that are carbon dioxide
and water. The similarity then suggests that the materials used to make
crude fuel are the same as the ones found in plastics.
BRIGGS (1994) suggests that fuels like paraffin and petrol are a mixture of
hydro carbons that have five to ten carbon molecules in the hydrocarbon
chain. Plastics are polymers of small hydrocarbon units joined to form a large
single molecule.

STATEMENT OF THE PROBLEM

Can fuel be produced from plastics?

RESEARCH QUESTIONS

1. How can the release of toxic gases be avoided in the experiment?

2. Is the fuel efficient and enough to be used as an alternative source of


energy?

3. What is the proportion of plastics used to fuel produced?

4. Is it profitable?

HYPOTHESIS

Fuel can be produced from plastics by the process of distillation.

OBJECTIVES OF THE STUDY

1. To promote low cost fuel which requires less skill and unsophisticated
machinery

2. To create an environmentally friendly atmosphere by eliminating


plastics

3. To provide people with information on how to make their own fuel

SIGNIFICANCE OF THE STUDY

The findings of the research will enable people to create an alternative


source of fuel that will be used as an energy source to compliment
insufficient supply of energy especially electricity. By recycling discarded
plastics, the process would be getting rid of waste that lies freely in the
environment making surroundings cleaner. It will also create employment for
the unemployed.

DEFINITION OF TERMS

PLASTICS: Plastics which are natural synthetic materials which are


produced by chemically modifying natural substances.

PETROLEUM: A mineral oil that forms under the ground or the sea and is
extracted through holes sunk beneath it

DISPOSING: Is a method by which unwanted waste products are gotten rid


of.

THERMOPLASTIC: A type of synthetic polymers which are hard at room


temperature but become soft and viscous when heated.

DISTILLATION: It is a process of separation of liquid from a solid.


CHAPTER 2

LITERATURE REVIEW

INTRODUCTION

2.0 This chapter focuses on the ideas or information from other authors
related to the topic under discussion.

2.1 ORIGIN OF FUEL

Petroleum is a type of fuel which is known to have originated from dead


plants and animals that were found in the seas and oceans. It is generally
accepted that they formed from the fossilized remains of dead plants and
animals by exposure to heat and pressure in the earth’s crust over millions
of years. The fossil fuels include coal, petroleum and natural gases which
contain high percentages of carbon RAMSDEN (2000).

Fossil fuels are non renewable resources and they take millions of years to
form and reserves are being depleted faster than new ones are being made
hence there is a need to find alternatives. The production of coal and uses of
fossil fuels raise environmental concerns for they produce a lot of carbon
dioxide into the atmosphere which has negative effect on the ozone layer.
Ozone layer is a ‘blanket’ of air that avoids direct sun rays from directly
affecting the earth.
The crude oil extracted from the earth’s surface can be fractioned to produce
different forms of alkanes which are modern day fuels. Petroleum is also
formed from fractionation process and it is a source of most skin jellies and
also happen to be the origin of plastics.

2.2 STRUCTURE OF FUELS

Modern fossil fuels area mainly alkanes which are a mixture of hydrocarbons,
made up of hydrogen and carbon. Alternative fuels tend to be made up of
small fairly simple molecules for example methane (CH4)

STRUCTURE OF METHANE
STRUCTURE OF PROPANE (C3H8)
The differences in structures lead to different boiling points and chemical
properties.

2.3 PLASTICS

Plastic is the general common term for a wide range of synthetic or semi
synthetic organic amorphous solid materials used in the manufacture of
industrial products. Plastics are typically polymers of high molecular mass
and may contain other substances to improve performance and reduce
costs.

According to RAMSDEN (1193:765); “plastics are polymers of carbon


compounds”. They are low in density, strong and they can be moulded into a
variety of shapes. They are also resistant to chemical attack and to
corrosion.

Some plastics harden when they are cooled but soften when heated. Plastics
are natural synthetic materials. They are produced by chemically modifying
natural substances or are synthesized from inorganic and organic material.
On the basis of their physical structure or character, plastics are usually
divided into thermostats, elastomers and thermoplastics. These groups differ
primarily with regard to molecular structure which is what determines their
differing in thermal behavior. Examples of thermoplastics are polythene,
polystyrene, and poly (chloroethene). Thermosetting plastics are those that
are shaped during manufacture and once they are solid they harden and will
not soften again when heated. Examples are polyurethane, phenolic resins
and melamine.

2.4 STRUCTURE OF PLASTICS

Unlike the metals their molecules are arranged into crystalline lattices but
polymers have molecules arranged into long strip of molecules.

Carbon is contained in all organic materials and can be easily linked to other
materials such as hydrogen and oxygen because of its need to find four
electrons. Carbon is the main ingredient in the long chained polymer
molecules that forms covalent bonds with other materials. This carbon chain
is known as polymer back bone.

RAMSDEN (1993;765) says “plastics are polymers of carbon compound”.


They are low in density, strong and can be moulded into a variety of shapes.
Plastics are different I structures between thermoplastics and thermosetting
plastics.

THE STRUCTURE OF THERMOPLASTICS

NAME STRUCTURE

1. Linear polymer A –A–A–A–A–A


e.g.polyethene
2. Linear copolymer –A–B–A–B–A–B–A
e.g. nylon

STRUCTURE OF THERMOSETTING

1. POLYTHENE

2. STRUCTURE OF POLYVINYLCHLORIDE
2.5 COMBUSTION OF ALKANES AND PLASTICS

Alkanes burn on oxygen to form carbon dioxide and water vapour. If there is
insufficient oxygen for the reaction, carbon monoxide is formed instead of
carbon dioxide.

CH4 + 4O2 → cO2 + 2H2O

Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) burns and forms carbon dioxide, water, hydrogen
chloride and energy but polyethene burns to form carbon dioxide, water and
energy just like the alkanes.

RAMSDEN (2000) SAYS “because of their saturated nature alkanes are


generally very inert compounds”. However under certain conditions alkanes
can undergo some chemical reactions.

2.6 STABILITY OF HYDROCARBONS

Hydrocarbons are generally stable because of the strong carbon-carbon


hydrogen-carbon bond that exists in the hydrogen polymers. This makes
them very unreactive and can only react when high activation energy has
been supplied to break the bonds.

2.7 DISTILLATION OF PLASTICS

Plastics are a danger to the environment for they are a threat to the
environment because of the fact that they are non-biodegradable. WINFIELD
(2003; 53) says “plastics are non-biodegradable and they continuously
increase waste in the environment”. Because of this waste it becomes
unreasonable to continuously dispose them into the environment. In place of
that there are better methods that can get rid of the waste from the
environment.

When het is supplied to plastic materials it gains heat and absorbs it and
thereby breaking the nearby bonds in the carbon chain causing the polymer
to break up. The polymer melts as the bonds break up and further increase
in temperature causes the molten matter to reach its boiling point.

For most alkanes ranging from (c5 to c10) gases emitted are at different
temperatures. The temperatures range from 200c to 1200c. After heating a
wax remains in the container.

2.8 CONCLUSION

For the fear of fossil fuel going to extinction and it being a non-renewable
source there is need to find alternatives that is renewable and not a threat to
the environment. Furthermore on the reason of plastics being non-
biodegradable, it is of great importance that some other means have to be
used in order to dispose them. Through the information gathered concerning
plastics if they can be used in the manufacture of fuel it can be of great use
to the society.

CHAPTER 3

RESEARCH METHODOLOGY
3.0 INTRODUCTION

This chapter seeks to discuss the experiments carried out, collection of the
plastics samples, apparatus and materials used. Methodology is concerned
with detailed research methods, which data is collected and the general
ideas upon which collection and analysis of data is based. Methodology
therefore is seen as an operational framework within the facts are placed so
that their meaning can be seen clearly and worthy at the end.

3.1 RESEACH INSTRUMENT

A research instrument is a procedure or tools used to collect information


from people under the study. The researcher used different methods of
gathering data. The researcher intends to use the observation and the
interview as the research instrument. The usefulness of these tools is
determined by task at hand, the person using it and availability

3.2.1 OBSERVATION

According to Oakley (1981) an observation is an act of gathering impression


from the surrounding world through all human faculties. Through this
technique the problem of fuel being faced by institutions was noted. Moving
around the community, a lot of waste plastics were lying in the environment
and they attracted the attention of the researcher that they could be a
possible source of fuel that could rescue the situation. It was also through
this instrument that results from different experiments that were carried out
were noted.

3.2.2 INTERVIEW

This was the other method that was used to find out people’s views and
contributions towards the project. According to SIDHU (1984; 76) says that
an interview “is a way in which the investigator gathers data directly from
others in a face to face contact with one being interrogated”. Therefore an
interview requires the proximity of two or more people. Interviews are used
to gather information about the attitudes, beliefs, perceptions, knowledge,
experience and understanding of subjects of the topic under discussion.

A number of useful ideas, positive and negative comments are obtained from
the interviewing process. Informal interviews were organized where much
information was tapped from some scientists and other people in the
community.

3.2.3 POPULATION SAMPLING

Borg (1979) defined population as all members of a real or hypothetical set


of people, events or objects to which we wish to generalize the results of the
research. Plastic materials made up of Polyvinyl Chloride (pvc) and
polythene were taken as a sample from the environment around Belvedere
Teacher’s College. Interviews were chosen randomly from the population
around the college.

3.3. RESEARCH DESIGN

Borg and Gall (1989) defined research design as a procedure used by the
researcher to explore the relationship between variables, administered
measures of application and treatment that analyse the data. Nachmias and
Wachmias (1985; 76) also defined ‘a research design “as a biological model
of proof that guides the investigator in the various stages of research. The
procedure below is to be folloed.

Materials Required

1) 300G of plastics

2) Conical flask

3) Condenser

4) Beam balance

5) Thermometer
WEIGHING

1) A mass of 300g of plastics were weighed using a triple beam balance


and cut into small pieces using a scissors

2) The plastic s are put in conical flask and are heated. The plastics
turned into liquid. The molten plastics are further heated in a closed
container connected to condenser so that when the liquid turns into
vapour it could be turned back to liquid for bottling to be possible. The
distillate produced from this experiment is the fuel

3) After twenty five minutes of distillation the volume of distillate (fuel)


produced is measured using a measuring cylinder.

TESTING FUEL

The fuel produced was put in a burner that uses paraffin to see if the fuel
could burn to produce light and heat just as paraffin or any other fuel.

CONCLUSION

Research instruments used were very efficient as much information needed


could be collected. The results of experiment and interpretations are written
in next chapter.
CHAPTER 4

DATA PRESENTATION AND ANALYSIS

4.0. INTRODUCTION

This chapter serves to present the research findings of all the experiments
done in the fuel production process

4.1 PRESENATION OF RESEARCH.

TABLE SHOWING TEMPERATURE AND WHAT WAS OBSERVED DURING


THE DISTILLATION PROCESS.

TEMPERATURE 0
C OBSERVATION

25 0C Chocking white fumes that could


not be condensed were produced

80 0C Molten plastics started boiling and


a distillate was collected

86 0C The molten plastics were boiling


but no distillate was being
collected
INTERPRETATION AND ANALYSIS

The white fumes being produced were a mixture of gas such as chlorine,
hydrogen, nitrogen oxides. As the plastics melted, the bonds were being
broken and the gases are released into the atmosphere.

This is not environmentally friendly as the gases pollute the air and also
cause harm on the living organisms. At 80 0C an alkane of boiling point 80 0C
was being produced. Having iodised at the boiling points of different alkanes,
hexane was the one which had a similar boiling point, suggesting that it was
likely to be the alkane that was being produced. Above 86 0C molten plastics
were still boiling but no distillate was being collected.

4.2 TABLE SHOWING AVERAGE MASS OF PLASTICS AND VOLUME OF FUEL


PRODUCED

Mass of plastics ( g) Volume of fuel (cm3)

100 50

100 50

200 100

200 100
Using proportionality, the table below shows the relationship between the
mass of plastics and the volume of fuel produced.

Mass(g) 100 200 300 400 500 600 700 800 900 1000

Volume(c 50 100 150 200 250 300 350 400 450 500
m3)

Graph showing the relationship between mass of plastics and volume of fuel
produced using proportionality
INTERPRETATION AND ANALYSIS

Fifty cubic centimetres of fuel was produced from 100g of plastics within a
space of twenty five minutes. This suggests that the production process is
efficient if done using better equipments. From the graph it can be noted
that the volume is directly proportional to the mass of plastics used. This
implies that if more plastics are distilled then more fuel can be obtained.
From this relationship, the process can be done at a larger scale producing
many litres of fuel. Moreover as more plastics could be then the environment
is cleaned of plasic waste.

4.2 RESULTS OF AN INTERVIEW THAT WAS CARRIED OUT

People supporting use of the plastic fuel 15

People who did not support plastic fuel use 10

GRAPH SHOWING RESULTS OF THE INTERVIEW


INTERPRETATION AND ANALYSIS

Out of twenty five people interviewed, it was found that a large number of
people supported the use of the fuel. They cited advantages of the fuel being
cheap to manufacture and to buy and be able to rescue them from the
current energy sources like electricity which is very erratic in Zimbabwe.

CONCLUSION

Plastics lying around the country can produce valuable fuel and can be used
in the labs and homes rescuing Zimbabwe from importing the fuel and
saving the much needed foreign currency. Communities have to embark on
large scale plastic fuel production
CHAPTER FIVE SUMMARY

5.0 INTRODUCTION

This chapter serves to present the summary, conclusion and


recommendations to the activities that were done during the course of the
project.

5.1. SUMMARY

Fuel can be produced from plastics by dry distillation. This is the hypothesis
from the first chapter. From research findings in chapter four it was proved
that an alkane (hexane) which has a boiling point of 80 0C was produced. The
fuel can be used for heat and lighting just like paraffin which is mainly used
in areas that has no electricity.

The whole manufacturing process did not cost much as the raw materials
needed were readily available in the environment and it was only a matter of
collecting them. By collecting the plastics the surroundings were left clean
but there was a problem of air pollution since gases like carbon dioxide and
hydrogen chloride were released into the atmosphere. These gases are a
threat to the environment so safety measures have to be taken during the
manufacturing process.

During the experiment a problem was encountered on trying to clean the


flask that was used for distillation. A wax had remained in the flask after
heating and there was no solvent that could dissolve it. Having done all the
experiments it was convincing that fuel could be produced from plastics
basing from results obtained.

5.2 CONCLUSION

Fuel can be produced from plastics and the technique can be used to
produce fuel at large scale. The amount of fuel is directly proportional to
amount of plastics used.

5.3 RECOMMENDATIONS

Having done the research, the following recommendations were passed

1. The production process has to be done in a well ventilated room as


gases that are produced like carbon dioxide are very poisonous and
can cause death

2. The fuel has to be kept in a closed container because it is very volatile


and it should be kept away from naked fires since it is highly
flammable

3. Further research should be carried out to find and compare the


efficiency of the new fuel against existing ones