The Dung Beetle Project is shifting public attitudes towards waste with its ingenius invention – a beetle sculpture, made from recycled stainless steel, which houses a hi-tech gasification system that transforms plastic trash into energy.
The beetle-inpsired machine travels to places across Southern Africa and the world where plastic is a problem in order to divert waste plastic from landfills and the ocean and turn it into valuable energy people can use today.
Taken from Egyptian mythology, the ancient scarab beetle was believed to roll the Sun God Ra across the sky, bringing in the new day as a symbol of hope and rebirth.
The Dung Beetle Project aims to raise awareness of the plastic problem in a fun and educational way, while also offering a solution by converting the plastic waste into electrical power and liquid fuels.
The pyrolysis system deployed by the Dung Beetle Project, which turns single-use plastics into energy, is the brainchild of South African inventor Pierre “Pops” Pretorius. The inventor, who lives in the rural Limpopo Province of South Africa, had for years been experimenting with macadamia nut shells in the generation of a gasification system – a method of pyrolysis – that could produce various forms of fuel. Troubled by the amounts of discarded plastic that he noticed accumulating across the country, he began to consider whether this waste could be employed in a similar way.
What Pierre Pretorius discovered was that nearly any kind of plastic could be gasified. Using a single cycle system, shredded plastic is first placed inside an oxygen-free reactor. From this, gases rise up and physical particles are recirculated to be burned again. After running through cooling ribs, the gases are condensed into a liquid state. The system is able to produce low-emission diesel, as well as petrol and syngas, while no harmful smoke is able to escape.
The Dung Beetle Project say: “The world is struggling under the weight of millions of tonnes of plastic waste every year and in southern Africa we have an energy crisis that is seeing deforestation wipe out our old growth forest for energy. Our incredible engineering solution deals with both these problems, producing power from plastic waste that people can use instead of wood. We started this journey in disruptive technology using our gasification technology to bring to the world a system that solves two these two major issues in the world today: waste plastic and energy.
“Using the art, the fuel and flames, the trailer is a travelling, dynamic, multimedia educational performance workshop that brings together change-makers in communities across Southern Africa. The main aim of this remarkable centerpiece for climate change and environmental education is to get communities talking to each other about environmental solutions and shows people how to solve our global single-use plastic burden.
“We know our bespoke technology is not the only solution to the global plastic problem so we encourage a three-pronged approach that includes continued recycling of high value plastics, a long-term goal of total plastic eradication from the consumer chain and gasification of existing trash. Until plastic pollution is no longer an issue, the Dung Beetle Project will continue to address this global crisis by driving forward a viable new economy powered by plastic.”
The Dung Beetle structure is made almost entirely from recycled metal. Created using African skills and technology, it features an enormous, three dimensional figure of a beetle, a compartment housing the reactor system, and an art stage that unfolds from the heavy duty trailer as a teaching and learning centre.
The Dung Beetle Project has attracted a global team of collaborators including NGOs, universities, municipalities, entrepreneurs and scientists all working towards a common goal of addressing one of the planet’s most pressing environmental issues – plastic waste.
Rosa Medea is Life & Soul Magazine’s Chief. She writes about lifestyle including sustainable and green living. She also offers content services to businesses and individuals at Rosamedea.com