Makerere University Makes Diesel from Plastics
Both teams from Makerere University and University of Kentucky pose with the products from the unit
Makerere University Department of Agricultural and Bio systems engineering in partnership with University of Kentucky USA has come up with a new technology of making diesel from heavy plastics .The demonstration was carried out at the at the Department’s engineering workshop in Kabanyolo on Wednesday 16th March 2016.
The diesel can be used in motor vehicle engines, generators, lighting in the house and lighting charcoal stoves among others. Not all plastics can be used to make diesel. The best plastics for diesel are heavy plastics such as old jerry cans, plates, basins, chairs, cooking oil jerry cans of 3-5litres, black, white and green polythene bags and tops for mineral water bottles. The bottles of mineral water are not recommended for use because they are composed of oxygen molecules and may blast.
The set up of the process of making diesel from plastics
The process involves chopping plastics into small pieces and putting them into a cylinder. The second step involves lighting a fire beneath the Rocket stove (big Reactor). Then fix the pipe on the cylinder containing the chopped plastic pieces and place it inside the big Reactor. Heat the big Reactor at temperatures of between 400 and 450 degrees. The plastic melts and evaporates. The vapor goes through a fixed pipe and condenses into a liquid. It is collected in bucket containing water. And since diesel is lighter than water it floats on water. The diesel is then separated from water by filtration.
What remains after the chemical conversion (extraction of diesel) can also be used as manure in gardens to enhance soil fertility.
The Makerere University team is made of Prof. Noble Banadda as the PI and co-PIs, namely, Dr. Nicholas Kiggundu and Dr. Ahamada Zziwa. These are working with three undergraduate and four graduate students at Masters level.
Present from University of Kentucky was Jeffrey Seay, an Assoc. Prof. of Chemical Engineering with two of his students John Heggins and Chadni Joshi also undertaking chemical engineering course.
Speaking during the demonstration on Wednesday 16th March 2016 at Kabanyolo, Makerere University Prof. Noble Banadda described the innovation as the first of its kind in the country and a step towards utilizing waste polythene bags/ plastics and addressing the problem of the hazards caused by poor disposal of polythene bags in the country.
Prof. Noble Banadda (Centre) speaking during the demonstration
“The polythene takes between 150 – 200 years in the soil to decompose and has been a menace to this country in terms policy and soil health. So if we can have a way of utilizing unwanted plastics and polythene bags by turning them into fuel, it will be of great benefit to the country. We think this technology will change the price of waste plastics and be turned into fuel for cooking, lighting thereby reducing use of firewood and stress on environment”. The PI said.
Prof. Banadda said, soon the university will be organizing workshop to educate and raise awareness on the use of the new technology including the do’s and donts.
“It is important to stress the issue of safety when using this equipment. Don’t be excited when you see it, you need to be trained to know what to do with it. It is important you put in the right materials if you don’t, you could cause a very big problem and could burst. You have to make sure that the joints are well tied, plumbing done by a professional and then put in everything required and that will be part of the training”, Prof. Banadda said.
The student chopping plastics using a saw hacker and a vase
The Professor also said ,the biggest challenges include the unsorted plastics, the need for a machine that produce continuously without stopping the small size of the equipment acquired vis a vis the big problem of plastics in the country.
“ It is also worth noting that such a machine is about 5000 USD and shows that when you pay researchers and provide them with the required materials, they can generate means of addressing national challenges. We are happy that we have collaborated with Kentucky University to mitigate the issue of waste plastics in Uganda”. Prof. Banadda said and went on to say that:
“Research has shown that energy-poverty adds another layer of food insecurity and when the two are combined, they make a very angry poor person. So, as a department of agricultural engineering, we are trying to address the energy needs of our population. The department plans to expand production so that the public can have access to the technology and produce their own fuel”.
Students lighting the fire under the big reactor. Besides is the cylinder filled with plastics
Last summer in August 2015, the three Makerere University dons went to the US where they visited the University of Kentucky, met and saw the works Prof. Jeffrey Seay as impressive and invited him to partner with Makerere University to develop processes that can solve some of the challenges faced in Uganda.
“We are now formalizing our relationship because the University of Kentucky had sent a signed copy of an MoU. I have spoken with the Vice Chancellor and has scheduled a meeting to append his signature. Prof. Jeffrey has agreed to co-supervise two Master thesis in the department and on top of that, the Tar and Vinegar produced out of bananas Prof. Jeffrey is taking the sample with him to the US to do the chemical analysis”.
Prof. Banadda also said that the other target is to have a joint publications with Prof. Jeffrey this summer.
“This is good for the university and country as students can benefit from the two universities with different backgrounds. But most importantly, it means whether developing or developed world, we still have common problems. There are technologies in the west which are far developed than where we are in Uganda now and so need synergies to share”. He said.
Prof. Banadda observed that Makerere University dons never make trips abroad to other universities with their students. He implored the university to think in that direction. “ It is a big mistake. I can’t see a better way of mentoring and that is true mentorship we lack at Makerere University”. He stated.
Jeffrery Seay a Professor of Chemical engineering Kentucky University USA said what is being done at Makerere University is a demonstration that follows one that was done in India recently .
“The idea is to show that Makerere University can partner with other institutions, researchers, communities or individual persons to collect waste and turn them into useful products. We would like to see this implemented in Uganda, Africa and across the world. to develop a bigger processes”, He said adding that he plans to come back with more students.
Prof. Jeffrey Seay speaking and flanked by his engineering students he came with from the US
Chadni Joshi, a student from University of Kentucky said, they started working on this fuel technology last year in August 2015 and demonstrated it in India before coming to Makerere University. She said in the US, there is a team of 10 students working on this technology.
“We have been here for one week and just came to bring the Makerere University Students this technology. We started on this technology in August 2015 so it is a perfect process. So we are excited about it and to be here in Makerere University”, She said.
She said people in the USA do not use this technology because it is cheaper to get diesel and secondly, the waste disposal mechanisms are well developed and all plastics are reprocessed to reproduce plastics.
“In America all plastics are properly disposed, sorted and picked every Tuesday for recycling. But here, plastics are all over just thrown on the roadside, water channels and even in the dumping sites they are not sorted.”
As to how much diesel can be produced per day using this equipment, she said it depends on how much plastic is used, the type of plastic and the size of the equipment. If the plastic is heavy it would take long, if light it takes short time.
“If you load five kilograms of plastics, you will get 5 litres of diesel but it all depends on the type of plastic you are using”, she added.
She said the equipment installed at Makerere University was purchased in the US and brought to Uganda by a ship to test the quality of fuel. But one can use other locally available materials like galvanized steel or something similar to make the fuel processing any where.“ If someone wants, we can help them or teach them to build the unit.” Said Chadni Joshi.
Dr. Ahamed Zziwa commended Prof. Jeffrey for the collaboration and particularly for the seminar he gave and the presentations by his students. “Students he came with had a very nice presentation to our students. It was a very interactive kind of discussion that opened up students to see what their colleagues were thinking about. It is rear to find such opportunities in our country.” He said.
According to Dr. Nicholas Kiggundu, having a team led by Prof. Jeffrey was a good opportunity, “Seeing the Prof. Jeffrey presenting took us through the international way of presenting research findings. It was touchy because the ideas he came with were wonderful. The students were challenged but learnt how to look at things from different perspectives.”
As for research, Dr. Kiggundu noted that this was an opportunity to test so many things . “We have two units. One for plastic recycling and the other unity for bio mass. We can carry out tests for our bio mass, eucalyptus, pine and other trees like empavu and even Lemon grass . So with this unit, I am sure we are going to have experiments here to test vinegar, test different chemical properties, look at the bio char that comes out and the nutrient supplements of our crops. So am quite excited because this is one of the projects we are having that is going to keep our university on the world market”. The don said.
Dr. Kiggundu unveiled plans of having the team from university of Kentucky back to Makerere University at beginning or at end of the year to do research and publications thereby get the different writing skills.
He identified one of the challenges in such efforts as limited funding and implored the university to support research. “We hope that as time goes on, the university will support this type of work and support the department to fabricate a bigger unit. There is evidence that we have delivered and therefore we need support”. He said
One of the engineers pouring the processed diesel in the MV Mulimi tractor
Sudhir Byaruhanga of NTV drive-testing the MV Mulimi after fueling it with processed diesel
Report compiled by:
Communication Officer, CAES