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Blog August 2023

Transforming Plastic Trash into Clean Hydrogen Fuel: A Revolutionary Breakthrough

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Robert Hovhannisyan Product Marketing Manager

Global plastics waste more than doubled to 353 million tonnes between 2000 and 2019 according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). But in 2019 just 9% was recycled, while 19% was incinerated, 50% landfilled, and 22% leaked to the environment.

Modelling by the OECD suggests that global plastic consumption could almost triple to 1,231 million tonnes by 2060 if we carry on as we are. Its ‘Global Plastics Outlook: Policy Scenarios to 2060’ report says: Plastic pollution is one of the great environmental challenges of the 21st century, causing wide-ranging damage to ecosystems and human health, while the fossil-fuel origins of most of the plastics produced have implications for climate change.” 

The scale of the issue is such that United Nations members have agreed to develop a legally binding global agreement to tackle plastic pollution by 2024.

Challenge or opportunity?

Clearly, we need to find solutions that reduce plastic waste and the volumes landfilled, incinerated, and mismanaged due to their impact on the environment. At the same time, there is also a need to reduce our fossil fuel usage, to reduce emissions and resulting global warming.

So instead of viewing plastics waste as a global challenge, could it offer innovative commercial opportunities? And is there a way that our waste can be turned into something of business and ecological value? These are the questions that innovators and scientists around the world are actively trying to answer.

Plastic-to-hydrogen technology

One exciting area of innovation is producing hydrogen from plastic waste that is currently non-recyclable. This can be done using advanced thermochemical processes, such as gasification and pyrolysis.

In simple terms, these processes use high temperatures to break down the chemical structure of the plastics into basic chemicals, enabling hydrogen, as well as other chemicals and fuels - such as liquid fuels similar to diesel [MK3] [AL4]  - to be extracted. The outputs from these thermochemical processes will depend on various factors such as the inputs, temperature, specific technology and processes used, as well as overall plant design. 

This is an area in its infancy, but plans are already in motion to commercialise these solutions. For example, in the UK, Powerhouse Energy Group is developing a full-scale commercial plastics waste to hydrogen plant based on its Distributed Modular Generation (DMG) technology at the Protos site near Chester. According to the company, the hydrogen produced is 99.999% pure which can be used in all fuel cell technologies as well as for direct heating or industrial purposes. Powerhouse has also signed agreements for projects in Poland and Ireland.

In Japan, Iwatani, Toyota Tsusho, and JGC Holdings are exploring low carbon hydrogen production using waste plastic gasification facilities in the Nagoya Port area, with the aim of starting hydrogen production by the mid-2020s if feasible. They stated that use of waste plastic would enable a “stable and inexpensive supply of hydrogen to move us closer to a carbon-neutral society”.

It should be noted that thermochemical processes are different – and considered complementary to – mechanical recycling, the traditional method of recycling plastics. Mechanical recycling doesn’t significantly change the chemical structure of the material and requires a single-polymer feedstock that is washed, granulated and re-extruded to make pellets ready for moulding applications.

Photo credit: Toyota Tsusho Corporation

On-going research

Interest in the potential of hydrogen from plastics waste means research and development into solutions is on-going. Examples include:

Advantages and applications

Use of modular systems proposed for plastics-to-hydrogen plants, means they can be small scale, taking in local plastic waste and fulfilling local fuel requirements – or scaled up as required.

Hydrogen is considered a fuel of the future – one that can help us decarbonise, strengthen energy security, and improve air quality. There is recognition that we need to scale up technologies and bring down costs for hydrogen to be widely used across more sectors.

It can be transformed into electricity and methane to power homes and feed industry, and into fuels for cars, trucks, ships, and planes. As the International Energy Agency (IEA) explains: “It is light, storable, energy-dense, and produces no direct emissions of pollutants or greenhouse gases. But for hydrogen to make a significant contribution to clean energy transitions, it needs to be adopted in sectors where it is almost completely absent, such as transport, buildings, and power generation.”

In transport, a sector which is actively trying to decarbonise through greater use of technology, improved efficiency and low-carbon fuels, hydrogen has the potential to meaningfully reduce emissions in heavy-duty applications like long-haul trucks, trains, and ships.

AMCS is on a mission to help transport providers seize the opportunities with decarbonisation, through use of innovative technology that drives improved efficiency in vehicle usage – you can find out more here.

Implications for the Waste and Recycling Industry

Developing plastics-to-hydrogen technology will divert waste from landfill and incineration, and provide feedstock for a clean fuel, for which demand is . According to the IEA hydrogen demand worldwide reached 94 million tonnes in 2021 and is set to be 115 million tonnes by 2030. To achieve Net Zero, by 2050, IEA forecasts hydrogen demand will be 530 million tonnes.

It offers a new route for plastic currently rejected from materials recycling facilities or plastics recycling facilities and destined for disposal. As a result, it will interest waste and recycling businesses looking to improve the environmental performance of the waste they process, as well as those looking to play a role in the new hydrogen economy. 

Businesses looking to incorporate new technologies and develop more sustainable operations can find out more about how AMCS can help boost efficiency and enhance productivity here.


Hydrogen is seen as a key component in the transition to clean energy. Producing hydrogen from previously considered unrecyclable waste is therefore an exciting prospect for both the waste and energy sectors.

Imagine a world where there is no more unrecyclable plastic waste. Instead, this ‘waste’ is simply a feedstock to create clean fuel for our vehicles or homes. We are just at the start of the plastics waste-to-hydrogen journey – but the road ahead holds promise for a cleaner and more sustainable future.

Find out more about how AMCS can help waste and recycling businesses adapt to these new advancements with its Enterprise Management system and about all its solutions here.

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