Measurement and Testing

  • Can Plastic Be Used As Fuel?

Can Plastic Be Used As Fuel?

Oct 04 2018 Read 499 Times

In the wake of growing environmental concerns and the electric vehicle revolution, experts like Wood Mackenzie predict that global demand for gasoline is set to peak by 2030. The looming deadline has sparked a wave of eco-friendly energy technologies, including an exciting new development from Swansea University.

Addressing a global surplus of non-recycled plastic, a team of researchers have pioneered a new technology that could see plastic waste transformed into hydrogen, which could eventually be used to power vehicles.

Using sunlight to trigger chemical reactions

First, the plastic is cut and scrubbed to create a rough surface. The plastic is then coated in a light-absorbing photo catalyst, then dipped in an alkaline solution. After being coated and dunked the plastic is exposed to natural or solar simulator lamp sunlight, which triggers a chemical reaction to produce hydrogen.

Dr Moritz Kuehnel, a Chemistry Department lecturer at Swansea University asserts the technique could be a cheaper alternative to recycling plastic. There's a heavy focus on polyethylene terephthalate (PET), which is used to create most plastic bottles. While technically PET can be recycled, in practice many bottles are simply disposed of in landfill.

"There's a lot of plastic used every year - billions of tonnes - and only a fraction of it is being recycled," comments Dr Kuehnel. "We are trying to find a use for what is not being recycled."

Embracing "dirty" plastics

Not only can any type of plastic be used, but there is no cleaning or sorting process which drastically reduces costs. In fact, Kuehnel claims that dirty or oily containers only enhance the process.

"There are a number of reasons for this - one is that recycling in general isn't cheap, so it's easier to burn stuff or throw it on a landfill," he explains. "But even if you do recycle it, it needs to be very pure - so only PET, nothing else mixed in with it... and it has to be clean, no grease, no oil. Potentially you need to wash it which is very expensive, and even if you do all of that, the plastic you get isn't always as nice as virgin material. It's often not used to make plastic bottles because no-one wants to buy a cloudy bottle."

Kuehnel hopes that when developed on an industrial scale the innovative new technique will be used to power hydrogen cars.

Want to know more about the exciting new developments shaping the future of the energy industry? Don't miss 'A paradigm shift for shale: the environmental, financial, and litigative impetus for produced water recycling'.

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