• Latest Developments in Software and the Analysis of Recycled Plastics

Fuel for Thought

Latest Developments in Software and the Analysis of Recycled Plastics

Oct 16 2022


Recently, we have seen the development of software that uses chemometric tools to predict the viscosity of base oil in hydro-cracked effluent. As a result, such software can obtain the performances of high-throughput testing experiments and to respond to the desire for analytical efficiency. Clearly, this is an improvement upon the traditional workflow, which is time-consuming and completely incompatible with high-throughput testing experiments, for which only a few millilitres are produced. The results demonstrate that it is possible with such an approach to predict the ranking of catalytic systems.   

Analysis of Recycled Plastics 

In addition, there have been some developments in the use of thermo-rheological analysis as a tool to characterize or differentiate linear low-density polyethylene in blends. Linear low-density polyethylene is the most widely used for flexible packaging application. The microstructure and properties of the thermoplastic are primarily influenced by parameters such as comonomer type, comonomer content and distribution, molecular weight and molecular weight-distribution. In studies, several linear low-density polyethylenes have been evaluated with comparable macro-parameters, such as density and melt-flow rate, using thermo-rheological tools. From rheological measurements, it was demonstrated that up to 30 wt.%, linear low-density polyethylenes was miscible with low-density polyethylenes. In these studies, it was demonstrated that restricting oneself to relatively high comonomer content in the matrix of linear low-density polyethylene was not necessarily sufficient to achieve sealing at lower temperatures.  

Many firms are now interested in certain pyrolysis oils – all produced from waste plastics –becoming circular feedstocks. Typically, however, these oils have been regarded as unsuitable drop-in replacements for fossil naphtha. In any case, to facilitate the application of these pyrolysis oils as circular feedstocks, deeper compositional understanding of the oils is required. Manufacturers are being urged to produce or use more post-consumer recycled plastics but these plastics require more rigorous quality control measures to ensure that they do not emit volatiles that could be considered harmful, like malodours. However, there are several problems with the existing methods – such as human sensory panels, eNose detection or GC-MS – of odour detection in plastic. Yet, TD–GC×GC–TOF MS has proven capable of drawing a confident characterization of complex odor profiles from recycled plastics, enabling fast and simple identification of the compounds causing quality control failures. Once the key odorants are known, methods can be easily converted into routine screening procedures in quality-control laboratories at production sites.  

One other option for the analysis of recycled plastics that has recently been outlined is the hyphenation of thermal analysis to different mass spectrometric approaches. These methods can be used to explore the value of pyrolysis chars from low-density polyethylene as a feedstock for recycling plastic into batteries, catalysis, water purification or to generate further chemicals. Besides avoiding the perils of incineration, pyrolysis is also one of the most promising approaches for the recycling of solid plastic waste, as it generates a certain amount of solid residue besides liquid and gaseous products.

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