Transforming Plastic Waste to Fuel and Cosmetics Using Solar Technology

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Researchers have conceptualized ways to alter plastic waste and greenhouse gases to sustainable fuels. This is made possible using solar-powered technology. Scientists at the University of Cambridge claim that this system could take care of the issue of plastic pollution, and could be the pendulum in the transition to a regenerative economy.

A Modern Approach to Dealing with Plastic Waste

Scientists at the University of Cambridge have come up with a process that can change plastic waste into usable chemical products. This is now possible using a solar battery and fundamentally, renewable energy.

This technology can alter two types of waste, specifically greenhouse and plastic into two usable fuels. The two fuels are namely syngas and glycolic acid, both of which can be produced simultaneously using this system.

Incidentally, this is the first time such a process has been accomplished through the use of a solar powered reactor.

Based on the United Nations Environment Programme analyses, there is around three hundred million tons of plastic waste produced every year. Incidentally, only nine percent of that amount is recycled and the rest left to fill up landfills and seas. These oceans end up filled with micro-plastic debris.

The limitations of using other technology to recycle chemicals are in the energy needed. Chemical recycling takes on too-high temperatures, which are inevitably more costly and act as deterrence for recycling. This modern-age solar-powered approach could be the game-changer in that. Using a solar battery, one can store energy to be used for future recycling.

How does one turn plastic into a reusable product?

The solar-powered reactor turns carbon dioxide and plastic into various products that can be applied in an array of industries. For starters, syngas is the product of transformed carbon dioxide. This is an element used in renewable fuels. Plastic waste on the other hand is turned to glycolic acid, a component applied in the cosmetics industry.

Part of the system’s ingenuity is changing the catalysts applied in the reactor, to produce an array of products.

Shifting to a Circular Economy

Hundreds of millions of tonnes of waste end up in landfills yearly – actual wastelands of everything from mattresses to electrical equipment to unworn clothes, determined to be worthless and no longer needed.

Extending the value of such things and the materials they’re made of will lessen our reliance on extraction – raw material extraction – something our current economy is pretty good at and which translates into high sales-related profits. This shift would stem the environmental impacts of extraction, such as polluting waste streams and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

“Using things longer” isn’t as simple as it sounds and understanding how to maximize the value of a product and its materials “post-consumer” is critical for a circular economy to work.

The scientists view their results as a method of modifying plastic waste and greenhouse gases to usable products. These two are the largest global polluters. As part of the Natural Synthesis journal, the university scientists are hopeful that this solar-powered approach will facilitate the shift faster.

Turning waste into usable products is an essential part of our research. This is according to Professor E. Reisner of the Yusuf Hamied Dept. of Chemistry. The professor reiterated that pollution from plastics is a global problem and unfortunately, most disposed plastic is burned in kilns or thrown into pits.

What makes this solar-powered system unique?

While there are other similar systems under development, none of them have been able to simultaneously lower greenhouse gases and recycle plastic waste. A solar-oriented system, sorts out the problem of greenhouse emissions and plastic waste. It is deemed useful to the adaptation of a circular economy. This is according to Subhajit Bhattacharjee. This system works hand-in-hand with a solar battery, useful in storing energy for subsequent uses.

The process functions through shining a ray into a light absorber.

According to Dr. Motiar Rahaman, their system simply applies a light into an absorber and waste turns to usefulness. According to Dr. Motiar, before this system, nothing existed that produce valuable products precisely and with selection.

According to Bhattacharjee, changing the catalysts could make the system more adaptable in the future. It would be used to make more intricate products.

Scientists hope that the future holds a place for a recycling plant operating solely through the use of solar power.

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