Illinois Sustainable Technology Center studies energy potential of non-recycled plastics

Given our nation’s need to improve energy security, a diverse energy supply is more important than ever. That diversity includes technologies that derive energy from waste, enabling us to harness the power of this underutilized resource.

A new report released earlier this month revealed in greater detail the energy that can be derived from used plastics through a process called pyrolysis. This technology converts used plastics, including flexible film packaging and other plastics that are tough to recycle economically, into crude oil.

This month’s study was conducted by the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center, a division of the University of Illinois, to examine the products made from this plastics-derived crude oil, including a variety of diesel fuels that can be used by cars and trucks on the road today.

The study’s results were impressive: The fuel derived from non-recycled plastics from waste was found to be easily compatible with fuels from bio-based and traditional fuel sources, had equally high energy content, and was better performing in several other criteria.

The report is an important reminder that much of what we think of as waste today really should be viewed as a valuable energy resource. And on top of the energy benefit, energy recovery technologies like pyrolysis complement ongoing recycling and litter prevention efforts. It’s a win-win for America’s energy and sustainability goals.

The study was authored by Brajendra K. Sharmaa, Bryan R. Moserb, Karl E. Vermillion, Kenneth M. Dollb, and Nandakishore Rajagopalan, and was published in Fuel Processing Technology.

To learn more about energy recovery, and how policymakers at the state and local level can modernize their solid waste and energy laws and regulations to encourage these technologies, visit

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