Before the holidays, The Center for Sustainable Development (CSD) welcomed students from Thayer School of Engineering at Dartmouth College to campus. These students have been working with CSD on our plastic pyrolysis initiative as part of their Capstone Engineering Design Project. The pyrolysis system is an apparatus built in-house by CSD and Island School students that can convert waste plastic into fossil fuels. Throughout the fall, this Dartmouth team has been analyzing our current pyrolysis system at CSD, and investigating ways to increase its efficiency. After studying the system and talking to experts in the field, Dartmouth students came to campus to run experiments, collect and analyze data, and ultimately propose recommendations for the future of the system.

 Dartmouth students with CSD teacher and engineer, Alex Perkins.

Dartmouth students with CSD teacher and engineer, Alex Perkins.

Fuel and gas samples were collected at various points throughout the pyrolysis reaction. These samples were sent back to Dartmouth where the team will use mass spectrometry to analyze exactly what molecules are produced during the pyrolysis reaction. This will let CSD engineers learn more about the plastic-derived fuel produced from the reaction, such as its environmental impacts and how it might affect the inside of an engine.

 Carly Kuperschmid (Dartmouth) and Alex Perkins (CSD) taking notes during a pyrolysis experiment.

Carly Kuperschmid (Dartmouth) and Alex Perkins (CSD) taking notes during a pyrolysis experiment.

“Working with Dartmouth is huge for CSD. This collaboration is propelling our project further and faster than we could have on our own, as we are getting lots of previously unobtainable data” says project lead Alex Perkins. The Dartmouth students brought with them high-tech equipment such as gas detectors, thermal cameras, and high-temperature data loggers. This gave CSD engineers valuable data that they will use to improve their system.

 FLIR thermal image of the pyrolysis system in the foreground, with team members recording data in the background.

FLIR thermal image of the pyrolysis system in the foreground, with team members recording data in the background.

CSD will be continuing to gather data and work with the Dartmouth team to improve yield and energy conversion ratios of the pyrolysis reaction. This is in a continuing effort to develop a solution to both waste management and energy resiliency in Small Island Developing States such as The Bahamas. We had a great time and learned a lot working with the Dartmouth team. We are excited to continue this collaboration and improve our system.

 Pyrolysis system converting waste plastic into fuel at the Center for Sustainable Development.

Pyrolysis system converting waste plastic into fuel at the Center for Sustainable Development.