By Patrick Liddy*
Those who have studied alchemy, as practiced throughout Europe, Egypt and Asia over the centuries – have been trying to convert lead into gold for thousands of years. As it turns out, it is far easier, and cheaper, to turn gold into lead. The net ‘gain’, however, leaves a lot to be desired.
Now comes along a company that can turn waste plastic into diesel fuel, a new and more realistic form of alchemy. It does so in a most cost-effective manner such that the application could possibly clean up one of the worst biological wastes on the planet.
What’s more, the company’s founder is an Australian, Priyanka Bakaya. The sad thing is that she had to move to the US to pursue this venture. But she is still hopeful Australians, as investors, may be able to help her and benefit themselves at the same time.
Her company, PK Clean, builds facilities that convert plastic waste that would otherwise go into landfill into usable fuels such as diesel. The first operational facility has been successfully demonstrated in Salt Lake City, Utah, and the next facility, to be built this year, will be deployed in Nova Scotia, Canada. The company has received government support in the US (from Utah and Salt Lake City), in addition to debt financing originated from Goldman Sachs.
PK Clean presents a major breakthrough solution to plastic waste globally. We are now living in the “plastic age” and it is estimated that there will be more plastic than fish in the oceans by 2050. About 300 million tonnes of plastic is produced globally each year, but only 10 per cent gets recycled. Plastic waste can sit in landfills for hundreds of years without decomposing.
Since plastic essentially comes from oil to begin with, PK Clean reverses the process to convert plastics back into fuel. Every tonne of plastic will yield roughly 950 litres of fuel. The process also generates its own natural gas, which gets recycled to provide enough energy to heat the system. The process is an efficient way of extracting energy from the waste, the company believes, with an energy payback ratio of 52 units out for every one unit of energy put in. It costs roughly US$30 a barrel to produce diesel which can be sold for roughly US$70 a barrel.
Priyanka Bakaya grew up in Melbourne before moving to the U.S. to study at Stanford and later MIT, where she founded PK Clean. She credits her passion for the environment with the time she spent in the Australian outdoors growing up. She has received a lot of interest from Australian customers, who are eager to find a solution to the high costs associated with landfilling plastic waste. Oftentimes, these landfill costs can be ten times higher in Australia than in Utah, where PK Clean’s U.S. facility is located.
The American Chemistry Council has conducted an in-depth validation on the emerging plastic-to-oil sector, highlighting major players including PK Clean. PK Clean was founded at MIT and worked with the University of Utah to validate its scale-up in Salt Lake City, and is now considered a global leader in this breakthrough industry. The American Chemistry Council has estimated that the U.S will see over $6 billion in investment into building 600 new facilities across the U.S in the coming years, which could create over a hundred thousand jobs.
As Melbourne-based private equity manager Phillip Kingston of Trimantium, which is one of PK Clean’s backers, puts it: “PK Clean presents one of the most investable and scalable social impact bond opportunities for Australian investors seeking strong financial returns and environmental impact at a potentially global scale.”
*Patrick Liddy is principal of consulting firm MSI Group.