Grantee Research Project Results
Final Report: Mobile Plastic Ocean Waste RecyclerEPA Contract Number: 68HERC21C0027
Title: Mobile Plastic Ocean Waste Recycler
Investigators: Simpson, Patrick K
Small Business: PKS Consulting, Inc.
EPA Contact: Richards, April
Project Period: March 1, 2021 through August 31, 2021
Project Amount: $100,000
RFA: Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) - Phase I (2021) RFA Text | Recipients Lists
Research Category: Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR)
Problem. The Environmental Protection Agency is seeking to improve the U.S. recycling system. PKS Consulting is an Alaska-based small technology firm that proposed the development of a Mobile Plastic Ocean Waste (POW) Recycler that can be moved from community to community to produce Recycled Plastic Lumber (RPL) products from locally collected POW. Fishing gear is primarily composed of Polyamide (PA), Polyethylene (PE), and Polypropylene (PP).
Significance. Producing useful and profitable products from this abundance of POW presents several challenges, including: collection, cleaning, sorting, and processing. If the material is not cleaned well, processing is problematic. Also, a significant impact on feasibility is the remote locations where POW is collected; sometimes resulting in insurmountable logistical challenges.
Innovation. One primary challenge faced when producing POW products is the non-homogeneity of the material. Fishing gear is typically a mixture of PA, PP, and PE. The low melting point of PE and PP relative to PA allows the PA to remain stable and become a binder (similar to fiberglass) when added to a PE-based extrusion. This temperature difference will be used to combine shredded nylon (PA) web as the reinforcement material in a Recycled Plastic Lumber (RPL) product that combines two POW waste streams – beach debris and EoL fishing gear.
During Phase I, all Phase I objectives were achieved, including:
- Completed a system design for the Mobile Plastic Ocean Waste Recycler that included system requirements, system specification, and system design. Thirteen separate vendors were interviewed, quotes from several of these were provided.
- Collected Plastic Ocean Waste from four different beach cleanup activities, yielding 13 super sacks of Plastic Ocean Waste (material).
- Completed materials analysis of several combinations of Plastic Ocean Waste and Compatibilizers, demonstrating at least one combination of Plastic Ocean Waste materials with material properties similar to pure HDPE.
- Completed an operational plan that describes how the Mobile Plastic Ocean Waste Recycler will be operated in a local community.
- Executed an outreach plan that included 27 different organizations in six different activity areas that included participation in three beach cleanup efforts.
The Phase I Results, documented in the Phase I Final Report have demonstrated that the that the scientific and technical principles underlying the technology are sound, and that the technology is ready to move from laboratory scale to pilot scale and prototype development.
The business model we are proposing is to build Mobile Plastic Ocean Waste Recycler systems that can produce Recycled Plastic Lumber (RPL) using locally available materials. The RPL product would be sold through existing local sales channels. Each system would be built to provide 200 kg/hr of plastic processing throughput. Communities would stockpile plastic material from Plastic Ocean Waste, Ocean Bound Plastic, and End-of-Life nets. The system would be deployed in the community, process the stockpiled material, and then move on to another community. Nominally the system would process at least 27.8 MT at each location, however, as long as the system is able to process at least 111 MT (225,000 lbs.) of plastic material in a year, it will breakeven. The revenue model indicates that if the unit operates in four locations for 20 days at each location, it will produce 316 MT (640,000 lbs.) of RPL product. Using a product mix that is representative of dunnage, this would produce gross revenue of $700,000 and net revenue just over $350,000. Replicating this system to five other Alaska regions, then worldwide, will be funded through expansion capital provided during Phase III.
Phase I accomplishments include:
- Presented a commercialization plan that included a detailed discussion of the initial customer, market size, a revenue model with breakeven analysis, and a candid risk assessment; and
- Began discussions with three different funding organizations that are interested in providing follow-on funding.
Letters of support were received from large multi-national businesses that confirmed their desire to purchase the RPL dunnage product and to consider Phase III investment.
PKS Consulting received the following press, media and meeting coverage during Phase I:
- “Anchorage engineer plans to recycle ocean garbage into plastic lumber,” by Liz Ruskin, Alaska Public Media -May 19, 2021, https://www.alaskapublic.org/2021/05/19/anchorage-engineer-plans-to-recycle-ocean-garbage-into-plastic-lumber/. (Redistributed other new sites including: Waste360.com, AlaskaPublic.org, FishBio.com, AlaskaFishRadio.com, DemocraticUnderground.com, AlaskaJournal.com, and Newsbreak.com)
- “Recycled nets become sunglasses, socks, swimsuits,” by Zachary Snowdon Smith, The Cordova Times, June 20, 2021, https://www.thecordovatimes.com/2021/06/20/recycled-nets-become-sunglasses-socks-swimsuits/
- “Anchorage engineer is developing a way to turn ocean plastic into building material,” by Taylor Clark, Alaska’s News Source (KTUU TV), Jul. 20, 2021 at 7:10 AM AKDT, https://www.alaskasnewssource.com/2021/07/20/anchorage-engineer-is-developing-way-turn-ocean-plastic-into-building-material/
- Alaska Society of Professional Engineers (ASPE). Patrick Simpson, PI for the EPA project, was invited to speak at ASPE’s quarterly statewide meeting. The meeting was well attended, however several folks missed the first meeting and asked if it was recorded. It wasn’t. A repeat of the presentation was made, this time recorded, and the video of the presentation can be found on YouTube (https://youtu.be/AWG8FxMDgH8).