Chalmers University of Technology scientists have pioneered a recycling method that is inspired by the natural carbon cycle and could eliminate the climate impact of plastic materials.

Can replace fossil raw materials

Henrik Thunman, Professor of Energy Technology at Chalmers University of Technology and one of the authors of the study published in the Journal of Cleaner Production explained, “There are enough carbon atoms in waste to meet the needs of all global plastic production. Using these atoms, we can decouple new plastic products from the supply of virgin fossil raw materials. If the process is powered by renewable energy, we also get plastic products with more than 95% lower climate impact than those produced today, which effectively means negative emissions for the entire system.”

To achieve circular cycles, we need to make better use of the resources already in use in society. Henrik Thunman and his research team want to focus on an important resource that often goes up in smoke today: the carbon atoms in our waste, which are currently incinerated or end up in landfills instead of being recycled. This is made possible with technologies targeting the carbon contained in plastic, paper and wood wastes, with or without food residues, to create a raw material for the production of plastics with the same variety and quality as those currently produced from fossil raw materials.

Short Version – about 3 minutes.

Current plastic recycling methods are able to replace no more than 15-20% of the fossil raw material needed to meet society’s demand for plastic. The advanced methods proposed by the researchers are based on thermochemical technologies and involve the waste being heated to 600-800° Celsius. The waste then turns into a gas, which after the addition of hydrogen can replace the building blocks of plastics. Using this recycling method could decouple new plastic products from the supply of new fossil raw materials.

The researchers behind the study are developing a thermochemical recycling method that produces a gas which then can be used as a raw material in the same factories in which plastic products are currently being made from fossil oil or gas. Different types of waste, such as old plastic products and paper cups, with or without food residues, are put into the reactors at the Chalmers Power Central.

Henrik Thunman pointed out, “The key to more extensive recycling is to look at residual waste in a whole new way: as a raw material full of useful carbon atoms. The waste then acquires value, and you can create economic structures to collect and use the material as a raw material worldwide.”

Just like nature

The principle of the process is inspired by the natural carbon cycle. Plants are broken down into carbon dioxide when they wither, and carbon dioxide, using the sun as an energy source and photosynthesis, then creates new plants.

Henrik Thunman noted, “However, our technology differs from the way it works in nature because we don’t have to take the detour via the atmosphere to circulate the carbon in the form of carbon dioxide. All the carbon atoms we need for our plastic production can be found in our waste, and can be recycled using heat and electricity.”

Long Version – about 47 minutes.

The researchers’ calculations show that the energy to power such processes can be taken from renewable sources such as solar, wind or hydro power or by burning biomass, and they will be more energy-efficient than the systems in use today. It is also possible to extract excess heat from recycling processes, which in a circular system would compensate for the heat production currently derived from waste incineration, while eliminating the carbon dioxide emissions associated with energy recovery.

The research has been carried out as part of the FUTNERC project. The researchers have proven that the process can work in collaboration with plastics manufacturer Borealis in Stenungsund, Sweden, where they have verified the results and shown that the raw material can be used to make plastic, replacing the fossil raw materials used today.

Anders Fröberg, CEO of Borealis AB commented, “Our goal is to create a circular economy for plastics. Our plastic products are key to the transformation to a sustainable society, so it’s important for us to support research like this. We already have projects that create circularity for our plastic products, but more solutions are needed. Therefore, we are pleased with these excellent results, which can help bring us a step closer to our goal.”


The press release isn’t specific about the gas leaving the process, but the videos linked above are much more thorough and make the process much more clear, The best part of this news is that its another way to rid our environment of that nuisance of plastic waste. The stuff is getting everywhere, even inside of us, which is a bit alarming.

It’s a wee bit comical to see some of what comes from political correctness or woke or whatever the climate change folks are up to. Careful readers will note that early in the release the process is said to be able to clean the air of CO2. Later the press release points out that CO2 is the plant kingdom’s food source. The funny part is cleaning the atmosphere of CO2 would result in a near total planetary mass extinction.

One doesn’t really expect mainstream journalists to remember high school biology, but the plastic pollution problem is real, getting bigger and we’re coming up on having competing technologies, and that is Big News that deserves much more attention.

Congratulations are in order to the Chalmers scientists. That’s two technologies breaking out in about a month. Its one thing to bury wood pulp in a landfill to degrade in a few years and quite another to bury plastic that may last decades and even centuries.


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