Kenya has begun test runs of Africa’s first plant that converts plastic waste into commercial synthetic fuel oil.
The plant, based in Kiambu County in central Kenya, uses a conversion technology that involves heating the waste under controlled conditions to produce oil, similar to industrial diesel oil (IDO) and heavy fuel oil (HFO) used in power plants, industrial furnaces and boilers.
Industrial and Commercial Development Corporation (ICDC) has provided about 46 percent of the financing for the implementation of the project by Alternative Energy Systems Limited.
“We have begun test runs for the machinery in preparation for official commissioning in early March. This technology will be transformational in how we handle plastics in this country and Kenya will be used as a benchmark on the continent,” Alternative Energy Systems CEO Rajesh Kent said.
The project shows the country’s resolve to stem the plastic pollution menace. In Kenya, over 24 million plastic bags are used monthly according to the Green Belt Movement, half of which end up in the solid waste mainstream.
Plastic bags now constitute the biggest challenge to solid waste management in the country.
ICDC Acting Executive Director, Kennedy Wanderi said the technology has capacity to convert all types of plastic including thin-gauge plastic waste that are below 30 microns, which other industries cannot recycle.
“We know that counties experience myriad challenges dealing with plastic waste. However, our investment in this sector will see them not only save a lot, but facilitate communities to generate wealth from plastic waste in line with our goal of turning ideas into wealth,” said Wanderi.
More than 1,500 indirect youth jobs will be created for collection of plastic waste which is the main raw material required for the plant. Additional 65 direct jobs will be created in machinery operations and performance of administrative duties.
“We are targeting firms keen on pushing the agenda for clean environments and which prefers low sulphur fuels,” said Kent.
India, Germany and United States of America have large scale projects of similar nature. The innovation comes on the back of a proposed Nairobi County Plastic Control Bill 2016 that will see shoppers within the city pay for plastic bags.
The Bill states that retailers will not be allowed to provide consumers with recycled non-biodegradable plastic free of charge.
Relevant departments charged with manufacture and use of such plastic will be required to prescribe prices depending on size and quality of the bags. The extra cost on plastic bags is envisaged to cater for waste management by controlling usage.
The plant is a first of its kind commercial project, with a similar model currently under piloting in South Africa. It has a capacity of recycling 16 tonnes of plastic waste per day.