Amid growing global concern about the overuse of plastic, Austria’s oil and gas group OMV and Austrian Airlines have partnered to turn the plastic cups the airline’s passengers have used into synthetic crude that could be later processed into fuels or other plastic products.
OMV said on Friday that it had started to process used plastic disposable cups from Austrian Airlines into synthetic crude at a pilot plant that uses a process known as thermal cracking.
OMV’s ReOil pilot plant heats the plastic to over 400 degrees Celsius, and under this temperature the molecules of the plastic are cracked to produce synthetic crude oil.
“It would be better if we could convert old plastic into synthetic oil and use this resource either for producing new plastics or as energy for mobility. That would give us a circular economy for plastics, similar to paper,” says Wolfgang Hofer, Senior Expert New Technology, OMV Schwechat Refinery.
The whole chain of converting plastic into synthetic crude oil goes like this: Austrian Airlines flight attendants collect plastic separately, a disposal company cleans and shreds the plastic cups and then sends them to the OMV ReOil plant, where the plastic is heated and turned into synthetic crude.
According to OMV, 100 kilograms of used plastics can produce 100 liters of synthetic crude.
“The exceptional properties of plastic as a material mean make it hard to imagine life without it. In the ReOil pilot plant, we are able to turn the AUA drinking cups into synthetic crude and then process them into fuel or back into plastics,” Thomas Gangl, OMV Senior Vice President Refining & Petrochemicals, said in today’s statement.
Airlines don’t have much of a choice in the fuel they use, as jet fuel is produced from oil, but many airlines have started to limit the use of plastic. American Airlines eliminated plastic straws in July 2018 and started to serve drinks with a biodegradable, eco-friendly straw and wood stir stick. Delta Air Lines said in October 2018 that it was working on removing single-use plastics onboard and in Delta Sky Clubs.