Can you imagine your car running on fuel made from plastic? It may sound funny, but it’s definitely sustainable. What’s a better way to beat plastic pollution than transforming plastic into a product excessively utilised around the world?
The scientists at Swansea University have developed a process to convert plastic into hydrogen which can be used to power cars.
The process is developed by the chemistry department of the University. It includes adding light absorbing material to the plastic and then placing it in an alkaline solution. Finally, the setup is exposed to the sun which in the process, creates hydrogen.
Dr Moritz Kuehnel, who is part of the team, claimed that this process is cheaper than recycling.
“There’s a lot of plastic used every year – billions of tonnes – and only a fraction of it is being recycled. We are trying to find a use for what is not being recycled,” Dr Kuehnel told the BBC. “But even if you do recycle it, it needs to be very pure – so only PET, nothing else mixed in with it…and it has to be clean, no grease, no oil. Potentially you need to wash it which is very expensive, and even if you do all of that, the plastic you get isn’t always as nice as virgin material.”
The plastic used in the process need not be refined or pure. It fits well with any kind of plastic. Plastic bottles are generally made up of PET.
“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” he added.
“The process produces hydrogen gas. You can see bubbles coming off the surface. You can use it, for example, to fuel a hydrogen car. We get the hydrogen fuel and we get a chemical we can use to make new plastic,” said Dr Kuehnel. “We don’t make a full new plastic, we use just half of the material to make new plastic and the rest can be recycled – a clean, clear water bottle out of plastic.”
The process showed positive results in the laboratory but it’s still years away from the industrial level.