Researchers have devised new method for recycling plastics that reduces it to the basic components of jet fuel and other items.
Despite the fact that millions of tons of plastic is generated in the United States each year, only 9% of it is recycled, owing to the difficulty in converting the material into viable building blocks for other products. A new chemical treatment developed by Washington State University (WSU) scientists could help chip away at this challenge, as proven by the treatment’s ability to transform the most commonly used plastic into jet fuel components in an hour. Scientists have been experimenting with the idea of harnessing chemical processes to turn plastic into the building blocks for jet fuel and other items for some time. The substance can be converted to organic compounds termed hydrocarbons, which are made up of hydrogen and carbon and act as the building blocks for various types of fuel, by mixing it with catalysts at high temperatures.
The comparatively moderate temperatures and short timescale necessary for this process are where this recent study breaks new ground. The WSU researchers developed a new method for converting polyethylene, a plastic used in everything from shopping bags to shampoo bottles, into hydrocarbons by experimenting with catalysts and conditions. The scientists were able to convert roughly 90% of the plastic into components for jet fuel and other hydrocarbons in one hour using a catalyst comprised of carbon and the silvery white metal ruthenium, as well as other regularly used solvents. This occurred at a temperature of roughly 220ºC (428ºF), which is far friendlier and more economically viable than the temperature necessary.
The researchers discovered that by tweaking the technique, they could manufacture building blocks for other high-value items like lubricants. To adjust the end results, the amount of catalyst utilized or the duration. The researchers are currently working to scale up this method in order to commercialize it, and they aim to modify it to deal with different types of plastic trash in the future. Chem Catalyst was the journal that published the findings.