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West Ky. Team Leads ‘Trash To Tank’ Project That Converts Plastic To Fuel In Uganda

courtesy of Jeffrey Seay
Makerere University Graduate Student Ronald Kizza and Ester Wambeede with fuel produced using the process developed in UK.

A University of Kentucky project based in west Kentucky called ‘Trash To Tank’ aims to improve economic conditions in underdeveloped countries and help the environment.

Jeffrey Seay is an Associate Professor of Chemical Engineering at the University of Kentucky’s College of Engineering in Paducah. Seay works with graduate student Chandni Joshi Jangid to bring mechanical processors to Uganda that convert plastic into fuel. Seay said the goal is to give families a reliable source of income while providing environmental benefits.“From an environmental perspective, we get waste plastic off the streets and divert it from going to a trash dump,” he said.

This is part of what Seay refers to as the ‘triple bottom line.’ He said they wanted a project that is “economically viable, environmentally benign and socially beneficial.” Seay said there are two processors in Uganda: one is at Makerere University, who partnered with them on the project, the other has been placed with a family in the capital city of Kampala.

Seay said the family is operating a small business with the machine and is seeing an economic return of more than 150%. He said that does not include having to pay back a micro-loan for the machine, which will be required of future recipients of the program. He said the project in Uganda is showing promise that families using the processors will be able to pay that loan back. “If you look at a region, how do you figure out how many of these processors can be accomodated and what would their impact be with that triple bottom line,” he said.

He said the family is selling the fuel at 2,500 Ugandan shillings per liter, compared to 3,600 shillings per liter for regular diesel fuel. He said if the family made three U.S. dollars per batch 200 days out of the year, they would be making two-three times the average household income in Uganda.

Seay said the fuel created by the processors can be used in place of diesel fuel and releases fewer greenhouse gases when it burns. He said his team did not invent the process, but adapted it to be used by families in developing countries.

Credit Courtesy of Jeffrey Seay
Part of the 'Trash To Tank' process.

Even though he and Jangid have led the project, several undergraduate students have helped along the way. “Here at the Paducah campus we get a lot of non-traditional students, we get a lot of first generation college students who have never been on an airplane before and their first trip is to travel to China or Uganda or India on one of these research projects. So, we certainly couldn’t do anything without their help,” he said.

Seay said the project started in 2016 and the processors were brought to Uganda in 2017. The project was funded in part by local Rotary Clubs in Paducah and Kampala. He said the first grant of $5,000 paid for the equipment for the project. He said his team is working with the Rotary Club again to apply for a $40,000 international grant. He said securing that grant could bring the project to more families in Uganda and other countries, such as Haiti, Nepal, the Dominican Republic and Brazil.

Credit Courtesy of Jeffrey Seay
Makerere University Professor Noble Banadda, Chandni Joshi Jangid and UK student Shelby Browning.
Credit Courtesy of Jeffrey Seay
UK's Team with Makerere Students (Seay pictured in back row, second from the right).

Taylor is a recent Murray State University graduate where she studied journalism and history. When she's not reporting for WKMS, she enjoys creative writing and traveling. She loves writing stories that involve diversity, local culture and history, nature and recreation, art and music, and national or local politics. If you have a news tip or idea, shoot her an email at!
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