Teen student turns waste plastic into biofuel

Plastic wastes may soon be turned into useful biofuel, thanks to a method developed by a 16-year-old Egyptian student, a science website reported.

The method by Azza Abdel Hamid Faiad, a student of the Zahran Language School in Alexandria, Egypt, breaks down the plastic with a low-cost catalyst, Scidev.net reported.

"I will pursue my efforts to get my project patented this year through the Egyptian Patent Office and also to see the idea become a tangible project on the ground," said Faiad, who won the European Fusion Development Agreement award at the 23rd European Union Contest for Young Scientists.

She had earned a week-long placement at the Joint European Torus (JET) facility at the UK-based Culham Centre for Fusion Energy in the UK, where she will present her project and receive help with its development.

Last September, she had beat 130 competitors from 37 countries during the contest held in Finland.

Her proposal seeks to use Egypt's high plastic consumption, estimated at one million tons per year, to an advantage.

Nourwanda Sorour, a student at Alexandria University in Egypt and one of Faiad's mentors, said plastic waste is a real problem in Egypt and in most developing countries.

"(T)his project is simply converting the problem into a solution," Sorour said.

Plastics into feedstock

Faiad's method breaks down plastic into fuel feedstocks, the raw material for producing biofuel, with calcium bentonite as a catalyst.

Once the waste is broken down, it produces gaseous products including methane, propane and ethane, which are converted into ethanol for use as biofuel.

"The project can be safely implemented, as it doesn't emit any toxic gases, as long as its implementation abides by the safety measures applied for similar projects," Sorour said.

Mamdouh Elmelawy of the Egyptian Petroleum Research Institute said the project is greatly needed in most countries to help substitute fossil fuels.

"[The project] is a practical one that can be implemented on a larger scale either by the government in Egypt or by the private sector," he said. — TJD, GMA News