In 2004, Knight Foundation helped form the Fund for Our Economic Future, a collaborative to turn around the hard-hit economy of northeast Ohio. Knight and the Fund recently released a report detailing lessons from the Fund’s first seven years, “Catalyzing Regional Economic Transformation.” As part of its work, the Fund has invested in NorTech, an economic development organization focused on technology and innovation. Below, Jay Schabel, CEO of RES Polyflow, writes about the help his company has received from NorTech.
Did you know that your old grocery bags or empty peanut butter jars can be turned into oil and ultimately processed into fuel? That's right. At RES Polyflow we have developed technology that reclaims crude oil from end-of-life plastic waste.
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Over the summer we concluded the scale-up phase of our first waste-plastic-to-oil unit to prove that it can consume 60 tons of plastic trash and produce up to 288 barrels of crude oil per day. Our technology has caught the attention of investors, policymakers and potential customers from North America and beyond, who came to North Perry, Ohio, over the summer to see it in action.
What’s so cool about our technology is that it creates renewable fuel from non-recyclable waste that otherwise would end up in landfills. The material goes through a series of size reduction and densification steps before it is converted into “light and sweet” crude oil. That’s the most sought-after version of crude oil, since most of it can be directly processed into gasoline, kerosene and diesel.
We have patented our pyrolysis process—heating the material in an oxygen-free environment—in the United States and 17 other nations. Although pyrolysis isn’t new to the industry, our approach is unique because no extra labor is involved to isolate the rubbers or plastics from everything else. That allows us to take in a broad mix of polymers and still turn out a high-quality product.
Our conversion vessel is designed to work in small community settings rather than on a large regional scale. The idea is that local companies divert local waste to create energy and jobs in the community. That concept makes our technology appealing to remote places, including rural areas and island nations.
In 2011, our first unit was funded in part by an Ohio Third Frontier Advanced Energy Program grant and assembled on the premises of our partner South Shore Controls in Lake County. Through its Speed-to-Market Accelerator program, NorTech helped us obtain key supply chain partners and secure intern support, which was critical in taking our technology from the pilot stage to a production-scale configuration that is ready for commercialization.
In addition, NorTech helped us make valuable connections with partners and suppliers in the region. They connected us to Quasar Energy Group, for example, which helped us make specialized parts. NorTech’s services increased the speed at which our demonstrator unit could be built and showcased to potential customers.
In addition, NorTech has helped raise awareness of RES Polyflow’s technology and its potential impact. This is very important for a startup that needs attention and for people to believe that energy recovery from end-of-life plastics is a real, burgeoning industry. NorTech has helped put us on the map as something viable. I don’t think we would have built our first commercial processor in the region if that had not happened.