University of California – Irvine (UCI) researchers have devised a new way of recycling millions of tons of plastic garbage into liquid fuel. Its an egregious problem worldwide. University of California, Irvine and the Shanghai Institute of Organic Chemistry (SIOC) in China collaborated in the research.

Image Credit: UC-Irvine. Click image for the largest view.

Image Credit: UC-Irvine. Click image for the largest view.

UCI chemist Zhibin Guan explained, “Synthetic plastics are a fundamental part of modern life, but our use of them in large volume has created serious environmental problems. Our goal through this research was to address the issue of plastic pollution as well as achieving a beneficial outcome of creating a new source of liquid fuel.”

The team’s research paper, Efficient and Selective Degradation of Polyethylenes into Liquid Fuels and Waxes Under Mild Conditions has been published in the journal Science Advances in open access.

Guan and Zheng Huang, his collaborator at SIOC, together with their colleagues have figured out how to break down the strong bonds of polyethylene, the most common commercially available form of plastic. Their innovative technique centers on the use of alkanes, specific types of hydrocarbon molecules, to scramble and separate polymer molecules into other useful compounds.

Scientists have been seeking to recycle plastic bags, bottles and other trash generated by humans with less toxic or energy intensive methods. Current approaches include using caustic chemicals known as radicals or heating the material to more than 700ยบ Fahrenheit to break down the chemical bonds of the polymers.

In this newly discovered technique, the team degrades plastics in a milder and more efficient manner through a process known as cross-alkane metathesis. The substances needed for the new method are byproducts of oil refining, so they’re readily available.

Guan said the U.S.-China joint team is still working on a few issues to make it more efficient. That includes increasing the catalyst activity and lifetime, decreasing the cost, and developing catalytic processes to turn other plastic trash into useful products.

Waste plastic is a very big problem that shows up in every home, business, landfill and out at sea. The team is on to something that one dearly hopes is a worthwhile long term solution. Trash for fuel. Sign me up.


1 Comment so far

  1. Jagdish on June 28, 2016 7:43 AM

    Plastic is a dirty fuel Asit is discarded. Recycling or conversion to cleaner fuels is an urgent requirement. rehabs the hydrous pyrolysis, if possible, may produce cleaner fuels.

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