Nanoparticles producing hydrogen could dissolve plastic waste mountain

Everyone is trying to figure out what we can do with all the plastic we use and dispose. Cahal Milmo writes on the i news website about a new scientific breakthrough that could have discarded plastic used as a fuel for hydrogen-powered vehicles.

 

Waste plastic could be used to fuel cars using recycling technique developed by British scientists

Discarded plastic could be used to fuel hydrogen-powered vehicles using a groundbreaking recycling technique discovered by British-based researchers.

Scientists at Swansea University believe they have found a way to conquer a key problem with recycling the billions of tonnes of plastic waste generated every year by discovering a method which produces energy regardless of the type of raw material and its cleanliness.

Sunlight

Using specially developed microscopic nanoparticles, the process harnesses sunlight to break down all types of discarded plastic and create hydrogen, which can in turn be used in fuel cells to power electric cars.

The researchers point out that only a tiny proportion of the plastic produced worldwide is currently recycled because of restrictions which include the fact that discarded materials must be clean.

Dr Moritz Kuehnel, of Swansea’s chemistry department, said: “The beauty of this process is that it’s not very picky. It can degrade all sorts of waste. Even if there is food or a bit of grease from a margarine tub, it doesn’t stop the reaction – it makes it better.

“The process produces hydrogen gas. You can see bubbles coming off the surface. You can use it, for example, to fuel a hydrogen car.”

Industrial process

The team warn that scaling up the method into an industrial process is still years away but underline that it has the double advantage of finding a use for currently unrecyclable plastic by generating hydrogen while also producing the raw ingredients for new plastics as a result of that process.

The light-absorbing nano-material, made of cadmium sulphide, degrades the plastic when placed in an alkaline solution and exposed to sunlight.

New polymers

The process converts the plastic into small organic molecules that can be used to make new polymers as well as producing hydrogen.

Although hydrogen cells are regarded as one of the cleanest new transport fuels, the high cost of producing the hydrogen has hitherto hampered mass uptake of the technology. The researchers hope their new method could provide a source of cheap hydrogen.

Dr Kuehnel said: “We get the hydrogen fuel and we get a chemical we can use to make new plastic.”

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