LOS LUNAS — From old soda bottles and grocery bags to usable fuel, a new plant in Los Lunas demonstrates new technology which transforms used plastics into gasoline, diesel, kerosene and paraffin.
“One of the things I’m constantly told by people when we talk about PlastikGas is ‘this thing sounds too good to be true,’ and truly if you absolutely start to think about it, it does sound too good to be true,” Executive Vice President and PlastikGas business partner Martin Suazo said during a demonstration of the technology in Los Lunas Tuesday. “But, as you’re going to see today, it is true. It’s going to be the next big thing.”
PlastikGas, a 4-year-old company headquartered in Dallas, Texas, currently has five plants around the world, making the one in Los Lunas the sixth and first proof-of-concept plant.
The PlastikGas plants can process seven different types of plastic and transform them into up to six different types of usable fuel — gasoline, diesel, kerosene, paraffin, liquefied petroleum gas and coke — while producing very little climate-changing emissions during the vaporization process, according to the company.
New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, PlastikGas executives and other local and state dignitaries gathered Tuesday in Los Lunas at the site of the company’s newest plant for a ribbon-cutting ceremony and a demonstration of the process.
“New Mexico is an energy state, so finding elegant solutions that allow us to provide for the energy we need while also reducing or eliminating harmful emissions and waste is an incredible brand new innovation,” Lujan Grisham said during the event.
The governor even put the first few pieces of plastic into the reactor, with the fuel created during the demonstration and then pumped and used by a nearby vehicle.
According to Suazo, gasoline and diesel produced by PlastikGas is 33 percent cleaner than conventional gasoline. It also produces gasoline with an octane of 102 — higher than what can be found at most stations. The fuel is additionally low in sulfur and contains no ethanol.
“Your emissions are low and it’s cleaner burning more than anything else,” Suazo said.
Other companies do use plastics to make fuel, but most of them produce a diesel paste from incinerated plastics that are then taken to a refinery to make a usable product, Suazo said.
Each of PlastikGas’ five plants have the capability of processing one to 75 tons of plastic per day with the plastic to fuel output ratio being close to 10 to one, Suazo told the News-Bulletin.
The Los Lunas proof-of-concept plant will see a smaller output than the company’s other plants, having the capability to turn up to 100 pound of plastic into about 15 gallons of fuel per day.
“We understand the concerns people in the community have. That’s why we’re doing a proof-of-concept plant so they can see what it can do,” Suazo said. “We are a one-of-a-kind company. People are going to ask, ‘Is this going to create smoke and ruin where I live?’ That is not the case, not how we work, so we need to show you. We are resolving the very serious problem of plastic waste and not creating a new problem.”
Los Lunas Mayor Charles Griego said when PlastikGas first approached the village about the project, conversations with various village staff led to the development of a demonstration plant rather than a larger operation.
The Los Lunas plant currently sits on a third-acre of village property, directly south of the Sports Complex off of Morris Road. The plant has a footprint of 20-by-40 feet and stands about 12-feet tall — smaller than a single-wide mobile home.
“I think, one, we are innovative in the village. We like to look at things; we like to talk to people,” Griego said Tuesday. “And two, it produces a win-win solution for the village. It produces gasoline and helps us get rid of our plastic with no byproduct.”
The mayor said the site in Los Lunas is temporary, with demonstrations being set up by PlastikGas. The village will court the idea of bringing a larger plant to Los Lunas.
Griego said the technology could be a solution to a small chunk of the three tons of plastic produced by Los Lunas and its residents daily, which currently ends up in the landfill.
Julie Conti, one of PlastikGas’ executive vice presidents and wife of president and CEO Roberto Conti, said the company has plans to expand globally and presented the idea of placing the technology on barges to help combat plastic within the world’s oceans.
“The main thing is to make history, not to write it,” Roberto Conti said. “So, I think we made history today in the state of New Mexico.”
Makayla Grijalva was born and raised in Las Cruces. She is a 2020 graduate of The University of New Mexico, where she studied multimedia journalism, political science and history. She covers the village of Los Lunas, Los Lunas Schools, SODA and the town of Peralta.