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Priyanka Bakaya

Renewing Plastic Waste Into Fuel

Maggie Hong | Photo courtesy of Priyanka Bakaya May 1, 2019

Renewlogy founder and CEO Priyanka Bakaya grew up in Australia where nature was her playground. Close family friend and chemist Percy Kean’s home also became her playground.

“It was like playing in a giant chemistry lab — a space where (Percy) was constantly inventing cleaners and technology, which always sparked my imagination as a child,” Bakaya says.

Her father was an entrepreneur of financial services. “I was always intrigued by entrepreneurship because I saw my dad’s passion for what he did,” Bakaya says. It was in this climate of innovation, science and entrepreneurship that young Bakaya grew up with big dreams. 

Seeds of Innovation

After graduating from Lauriston Girls’ School, Bakaya left Australia to study at Stanford. She then worked for three years at Lehman Brothers as a research analyst in the oil and energy industry. During her stint at Lehman, oil prices were high, which inspired Bakaya to consider the feasibility of one of Kean’s earlier inventions of plastic fuel conversion.

In 2009, she enrolled at MIT to learn how to commercialize Kean’s technologies. Initially interested in electronic waste, Bakaya spent a summer in India to study it at the ground level. That summer proved to be a turning point: “What I saw was that the metal in e-waste had a lot of value, but plastics were either being burned or dumped irresponsibly into the environment. That motivated me to focus on plastic waste,” she says.

Plastics to Clean Fuel

In 2011, Bakaya and chemical engineer Benjamin Coates launched PK Clean — named after Percy Kean and now known as Renewlogy — using the process of catalytic depolymerization.

“The ultimate aim of our process is to take mixed and contaminated plastic waste and convert them back into the monomers, which are the basic building blocks of plastics to make virgin plastics, diesel and other petrochemical products,” Bakaya explains.

Renewlogy’s facilities convert low-grade plastics into high-value, clean fuel with zero toxic emissions. It can convert a metric ton of plastic everyday into 2,500 gallons of fuel like diesel, kerosene and other light oils.

Regarding the buzz about banning plastics, Bakaya says, “Plastic is not evil in itself. It is just that we have been stuck in a linear economy where we produce and landfill plastics.”

Renewlogy’s goal is to create a sustainable circular economy where plastics can have an infinite life.

In the Public Eye

Bakaya’s innovative solution to global plastic pollution catapulted her onto the world stage. She’s garnered a lot of attention for her work, including being a featured speaker on Ted Talks. She was recognized by Forbes 30 under 30, Forbes 40 under 40 and Cartier’s Women’s Initiative, to name a few.

Currently, Renewlogy has operational facilities in Salt Lake City and Nova Scotia, Canada, with plans underway for a plant in Phoenix.

Bakaya sees a future where her facilities are deployed worldwide, especially in developing countries with poor waste management. This year, its Renew Oceans initiative will focus on the Ganges River; bio-fences along the river’s head will divert plastics from entering the ocean. By creating value for low-grade plastics needed as feedstock for their facilities, Renewlogy also empowers river communities in developing countries to improve their livelihood by collecting them.

Of all the plastics produced, only 9 percent are recycled. Landfills and oceans are filling up with unwanted plastics. With Bakaya’s breakthrough technology, the social impact is far reaching and her future limitless as the world grapples with how to live responsibly in a “plastics age.”

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