This spring, Dow Chemical Co., Midland, Mich., conducted pilot tests that validated and documented the potential for energy recovery from incinerating plastics wastes.

This spring, Dow Chemical Co., Midland, Mich., conducted pilot tests that validated and documented the potential for energy recovery from incinerating plastics wastes. Dow found that 96% of the available energy was recovered after incinerating 578 lb of LLDPE scrap film generated in one of Dow’s extrusion laboratories in a kiln at a Dow waste-treatment facility in Midland. The energy recovered was equivalent to 11.1 million Btu of natural gas and was used as fuel for the incinerator during the test. Dow’s test shows “that used plastic can provide a valuable source of energy and ultimately help reduce our need for natural gas or other fossil fuels,” according to Jeff Wooster, plastics sustainability leader for Dow’s Performance Plastics business in North America.

Although it is not news that plastics release usable energy when burned, Dow wanted to conduct a controlled experiment and document the results, Wooster says. While incinerating municipal solid waste (including plastics) is common in Europe and Japan, “The U.S. lags behind many countries that capture trapped energy from recovered materials,” he notes. “Energy recovery is a clean, reliable, renewable source of energy having less environmental impact than many other sources of energy,” he adds. “Energy recovery does not replace the traditional means of recycling plastics—it extends and complements it.” He feels the test results could be a useful reminder to the general public and government officials that there are multiple ways that plastics can be useful to society after their intended use.

As for Dow itself, Wooster says the company plans to explore the potential for energy recovery at its own waste-treatment facilities, such as by incinerating the plastics packaging from its incoming raw materials.  Email: jeff.wooster@dow.com