- A study published in Science Advances by a team of researchers from the Shanghai Institute of Organic Chemistry and the University of California have identified a new way to convert polyethylene into fuel and wax.
- The study found that a two-step catalyst process can break down the material at temperatures as low as approximately 300 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Though the process takes about four days, it requires no chemical pretreatment. The researchers tested it on plastic bags, bottles, and packaging film.
According to the study, more than 100 million metric tons of polyethylene products are made globally every year. Three types of polyethylene, and polypropylene, comprise 60% of total plastic in municipal solid waste. If this process can be proven on a larger scale it could have big implications for the way these categories of plastic are recycled.
Aside from the basic value of diverting some of this material from landfills, the new process could also have positive environmental effects. Other methods process the material at a higher heat which requires more energy and results in a less useful mix of byproducts. Early analysis of the results indicates that the diesel fuel created may burn more cleanly as well.
Turning various wastes to fuel is not a new concept, as scientists have been discovering many opportunities to create low-carbon liquid fuels. However it's not so easy to turn plastic waste into such a resource. As the network for different types of polyethylene recycling has been growing, a lot of material is still left to be captured.