To say our growing stockpiles of non-degradable plastic waste are an environmental headache has to be the understatement of the century. However, thanks to Somerset West inventor William Graham, this highly problematic waste has just become a valuable resource. Here’s why: His modular, fully automated plastics-to-fuel processing plant converts all types of waste plastics (except PVC, because of its chlorine content), as well as vehicle tyres, into a variety of fuels to power our modern lifestyles.

With literally just the push of a button, Graham’s plant produces a multi-fuel chemically similar to diesel that can, in turn, be further refined into a petrol equivalent. Oh, and by-products (depending on the feedstock) include paraffin and LP gas. It also produces a type of clean “sweet crude” with a zero CO2 content that can be processed in diverse ways. To give you an idea: the sulphur content and viscosity levels of Graham’s marine bunker oil are below standard industry norms, while his heavy furnace oil (used in high-volume industrial heat fuel applications) is equally impressive. And his all-up costs for producing 1 litre of multi-fuel? About R2.50.

Heck, even the system waste has value: it can be converted to charcoal. Talk about taking waste and giving it value!

But that’s not all. The plant’s modular nature means it can be rigged into a container for easy transport to the feedstock, and start producing fuel virtually upon arrival. It’s also scalable, so accommodating specific load requirements is a breeze. And here’s the amazing thing: no chemical catalysers need be added to the mix – a world first, not to mention a truly remarkable achievement.

Needless to say, Graham’s invention has already made some very influential people, and very large businesses, sit up and take notice. “We had three Eskom bigwigs visit recently,” he recalls. “Initially, they were very sceptical, and didn’t believe we were capable of pulling it off. They left dumbstruck.” In the week before this interview, he had as many as 180 investors tour his facility, commenting afterwards: “They were going crazy for it.”

He’s also negotiating with one of the big furnace users, pointing out that “they burn millions of litres of fuel per month”. The auto industry has also expressed strong interest, as have mining companies in Botswana. Says Graham: “There are around 35 of these, all of which run their operations on generators and import their fuel from South Africa.”

Having done his homework, Graham is looking at several economic models. He expects big industry to buy and operate custom-designed plants directly. In return, he’ll provide all servicing, remote monitoring and regular tech upgrades.

Plans are also afoot to produce smaller plants for farmers and small communities that’ll supply about 5 litres per hour. Says Graham: “Our technology not only removes a serious environmental headache and provides cheap fuel, but is going to help with job creation, too. I want to go worldwide with this.”

What Graham has achieved is a landmark moment in our war on waste. It’s a practical, financially sound and ecologically appealing method of dealing with our growing mountains of plastic and tyre waste. I, for one, salute him.

For more information, contact Fueltech’s Lian du Plessis on 021-853 0699, lian@fueltech.co.za  or visit www.fueltech.co.za

Related article: South African inventor wages war on plastic waste (April 2013 issue of Popular Mechanics).