Announcement of the winners of the 12th Vodafone Idea of the Year 2019 competition
Czech family company can transform plastic bags and plastic cups into high quality oil
Jan Němec, Editor of the weekly Ekonom
11. 7. 2019 00:00
Used plastic bags and bags. Plastic cups. Food packaging. And many other plastics. Waste, which is an ecological nightmare for most cities around the world, can be converted into oil by Pol Oil. Its technology shows that problems with plastics are not always necessary to solve only by banning them.
"From the beginning, we focused on municipal plastics. Today, our technology can process a ton of plastic waste per day. And make it a thousand liters of high-quality oil," says Pol Hod's co-owner, Martin Hodan.
According to him, the disposal process is essentially the reverse of how plastics are produced. It is called thermal depolymerization and consists in that the crushed plastic is gradually heated to high temperatures of 380 to 420 degrees. The resulting product is an oil. And such a quality that even Unipetrol companies are interested in buying it. What can be used for?
"The noblest use is for further plastics production. This will save the oil from which plastics are otherwise produced," explains Martin Hodan. In addition, waste oil can be used as an additive to fuels - it can complement other products used today for this purpose. Finally, due to its very similar composition to diesel fuels, it can also be used, for example, in generators for the production of electricity and heat.
The big advantage of the technology is that its operation produces virtually no waste. Emissions are almost zero - heating takes place using electricity. "It's a clean and ecological solution," says Martin Hodan.
And the purity of the final product is, according to him, the main competitive advantage. More companies are engaged in incineration or other similar disposal of plastics. Due to the fact that plastics process in bulk, but most do not produce as good oil as a Czech company.
The Pol Oil technology has another big advantage: it is compact and fits in one transport container. Unlike fixed lines, it can move to waste, and it is not necessary, for example, in trucks to be transported to incinerators. Although one line can process only a ton of waste in 24 hours, Martin Hodan does not see it as a limit either. "There is no problem using more of our lines in parallel," he explains.
On the contrary, some limitations can be identified as a disadvantage. Pol Oil machines can cope with polyethylenes, polypropylenes, and partially polystyrene. However, PVC or PET bottles, for example, cannot cope. The waste used for oil production must, therefore be well sorted. Greater contamination by these plastics or the use of other plastics with mineral fillers may result in lower quality of the resulting oil or even blockage of the system.
The technology for processing plastic waste was actually a by-product. The family company ADI - the parent company of Pol Oil - has in the past dealt with many other things. "Our family started their business shortly after the revolution. First, we built wooden buildings. We always tended to do something other than competition. The wooden buildings attracted us because they can be built quickly, have better thermal insulation properties and are more affordable. However, we came across the fact that the Czech customer is conservative and that he is not interested in brick, so we concentrated on the German market, "recalls Martin Hodan.
He, his brother and his mother, and his brother-in-law also joined the business. Over the next few years, they also started to work in other fields. They built solar power plants for investors, and together with Siemens they also built a wind farm. "We enjoyed the direction of renewables, it was something new," Hodan explains. In addition, the company is also currently engaged in heat and power generation.
The technology for the production of plastics came through energy contracts. "The project has long been with a Slovak company we've worked within the past. It was a two-kilo machine that showed students the depolymerization process at the university," says co-owner Pol Oil.
He was intrigued by the technology from the very beginning: it was fascinating how the "reverse process" makes it possible to make oil from plastics. All the more so because Martin Hodan knew from his travels around the world what problem plastic waste posed in many countries. So they decided to bring the technology into commercial form and transfer it to the real world.
The development to the current final form lasted nine years and the investment, which the company financed from other activities, reached up to 100 million crowns.
In Pol Oil they tried different sizes of technology, different settings. Chemistry experts discouraged them; they argued that the bulk of the equipment could not work and produce as good output - oil - as the device did in small. "In the end, we conclude that the optimum size will be the technology to process one ton of plastics per day, resulting in a thousand liters of oil," adds Martin Hodan.
On the way abroad
At present, Pol Oil is ready to launch with technology. The device underwent a trial operation in Chomutov, where the company also tuned the last details. Now he is preparing for live operation, which should optimally run 340 days a year - almost nonstop, with only maintenance pauses. The Chomutov project should also serve as a reference.
Technology development to its final form lasted nine years. Investments financed by the company from other activities amounted to 100 million.
Already, Martin Hodan has a calendar for August full of appointments with those who want to come to see a machine that can produce quality oil from waste in person. And they have an eminent interest in buying it.
According to Hodan, the main potential clients of Pol Oil are companies that collect and sort waste. "Besides, there are also interested plastics producers, who produce a huge amount of waste during the production. Another target group are municipalities and towns that have their own landfill. With our machine they can dispose of a substantial part on the spot," says Martin Hodan.
One of the most interesting projects in progress abroad is the construction of up to 60 Pol Oil lines in Britain in three different locations. Local customers have solved the supply of sorted plastic, local customers also want the final product. In addition, Hodan reports interest from Scandinavia, Germany, Australia, New Zealand, but also from Japan or Mongolia.
Meanwhile, Pol Oil is able to produce 60 to 80 lines a year in its plant in Moravia. "We have more than 140 inquiries, though not yet binding. So we should take care of it for two years," the co-owner of the company praises. However, he does not want to talk about the price yet - the company sets it to measure according to a specific project. However, it is in the order of hundreds of thousands of euros.
Interest is also supported by the fact that technology is able to capitalize on itself. Even without subsidies. At Pol Oil, they have calculated that using a single line will result in the cost of selling oil in about seven years. But if more lines are involved, the return on investment will drop to four or five years.