Thermal degradation of waste plastics under non-sweeping atmosphere: Part 1: Effect of temperature, product optimization, and degradation mechanism

R K Singh, Biswajit Ruj, A K Sadhukhan, P Gupta
Journal of Environmental Management 2019 March 28, 239: 395-406
Continuous generation of plastic waste has prompted substantial research efforts in its utilization as a feedstock for energy generation. Pyrolysis has emerged as one of the best waste management technique for energy extraction from the plastic waste. The objective of this work is to investigate the effect of operating temperature on the liquid product yields in the pyrolysis process by non-isothermal heating. Non-catalytic thermal pyrolysis of waste polyethylene (PE) [high density polyethylene (HDPE)], waste polypropene (PP), waste polystyrene (PS), waste polyethylene terephthalate (PET) and mixed plastic waste (MPW) was carried out in a non-sweeping atmosphere in a semi-batch reactor at four different temperatures 450, 500, 550, and 600 °C. The minimum degradation temperature of the mixed and individual plastics was obtained using a thermogravimetric apparatus (TGA) at a heating rate of 20 ° C/min. The TGA results show that all plastics degrade in a single step and the degradation temperatures of PS > PET > PP > HDPE, while mixed plastic degradation indicates two distinct degradation steps. Further, a waste polymer shows a lower degradation temperature than the virgin polymer. The degradation of HDPE is found to produce the maximum oil yield with minimum solid residue. The degradation of PET results in the highest amount of solid and benzoic acid as crystals and gas with no oil. Degradation of mixed plastic causes oil yield in the intermediate range of pyrolysis of individual plastic wastes. Overall, 500 °C is observed to be an optimum temperature for the recovery of low-density pyrolytic oil with the highest liquid yield. The degradation of PE and PP is found to be caused by random chain scission followed by inter and intramolecular hydrogen transfer. The degradation of PS occurs by side elimination or end chain scission followed by β-scission mechanism. The degradation of mix plastics results from random chain scission followed by β-scission mechanism. The effect of temperature on oil and gas recovery as well as recovery time was also assessed.

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