Industry News

New Method to Breakdown Single-use Plastic Waste into Useful Molecules

Published on 2021-04-30. Author : SpecialChem

TAGS:  Green and Bioplastics   

UD-researchResearchers from the University of Delaware’s Center for Plastics Innovation (CPI) have developed a direct method to convert single-use plastic waste — plastic bags, yogurt containers, plastic bottles and bottle caps, packaging and more — to ready-to-use molecules for jet fuels, diesel and lubricants.

Method Uses 50% Less Energy

The work focuses on using a novel catalyst and unique process to quickly break down these hardest-to-recycle plastics, known as polyolefins. The UD-developed process requires approximately 50% less energy than other technologies, and it doesn’t involve adding carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, an emissions savings over other commonly used techniques. It can be done in just a couple hours at low temperature, around 250 degrees Celsius.

Importantly, the UD team’s method can treat a variety of plastics, even when they are mixed together, a plus considering the way recyclables are managed.

Creating Ready-to-Use Molecules

The UD research team used a chemical process called hydrocracking to break down the plastic solids into smaller carbon molecules, then added hydrogen molecules on either end to stabilize the material for use. The method also converts the material into branched molecules that allow them to be more directly translated into an end product.

The catalyst itself is a hybrid material, a combination of zeolites and mixed metal oxides.

Alone these two catalysts do poorly. Together, the combination does magic, melting the plastics down and leaving no plastic behind,” Vlachos said.

This gives the CPI-developed method an advantage over current techniques used today. Another plus: the team’s catalyst materials are commonly used and, therefore, fairly inexpensive and abundant.

Next steps in the CPI research include exploring what other plastics the team’s method can treat and what products it can make. To begin, the team hopes to expand collaborations with colleagues across campus and in the Center for Plastics Innovation to explore other avenues for making valuable products by eliminating waste.

Source: University of Delaware
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