Thanks to heightened media attention, the problem of mounting “plastic pollution” has become a major environmental concern in recent years.

The ever-increasing production and use of plastics over the last half century have certainly brought with it a lot of benefits, but have also caused headaches.  One of them is how to dispose of it. While a portion is recycled and reused, the vast bulk of the 4.9 billion tons of plastics ever produced will end up in landfills or chucked on the ground — and this number is expected to increase to around 12 billion tons by 2050.

Fortunately, some creative options for dealing with plastic waste are in the offing.

One of them is from a group of researchers from Oxford’s Department of Chemistry. Showcasing their findings in Nature Catalysis, they’ve developed an innovative method of converting plastic waste into hydrogen gas which can be used as a clean fuel, as well as high-value solid carbon.  They achieved employing a new type of catalysis that uses microwaves on catalyst particles to effectively ‘strip’ hydrogen from polymers.

As reported in the University of Oxford News:

[T]he researchers mixed mechanically-pulverised plastic particles with a microwave-susceptor catalyst of iron oxide and aluminum oxide.  The mixture was subjected to microwave treatment and yielded a large volume of hydrogen gas and a residue of carbonaceous materials, the bulk of which were identified as carbon nanotubes. 

This rapid one-step process for converting plastic to hydrogen and solid carbon significantly simplifies the usual processes of dealing with plastic waste and demonstrates that over 97% of hydrogen in plastic can be extracted in a very short time, in a low-cost method with no CO2 burden.”

The team’s new technique is being looked at as a helpful solution to addressing plastic waste pollution – for instead of heaping growing mounds of it on our land or in our oceans, plastics might be used as a valuable feedstock to move society toward more use of hydrogen fuel.

For more information from the University of Oxford News, click here.


  • CFACT Ed

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