Plastic waste can be converted into clean fuels and other products
Plastic brings great convenience to human production and life. Since the 1950s, the global average annual growth rate of plastics has remained at 8.5%. By 2016, global plastic production had reached 335 million tons.
Recently, the research team of Davidson Chemical engineering College of Purdue University developed a new chemical conversion process that can convert polyolefin waste (a kind of plastic) into useful products, such as clean energy and other products. Linda Wang, the research director, said, "Our strategy is to create the driving force for recycling by transforming polyolefin waste into a variety of valuable products, including high polymer, Naphtha (a mixture of hydrocarbons), or clean energy. Our transformation technology has the potential to improve the profits of the recycling industry and reduce the world's plastic waste."
Wang, Kai Jin, a graduate student of Purdue University, and Wan Ting (Grace) Chen, a postdoctoral researcher, are the inventors of this technology. This technology can convert more than 90% of polyolefins into different products including pure polymer, Naphtha, fuel or monomer. The team's partners also include Gozdem Kilaz, an assistant professor of the College of Engineering and Technology, and Petr Vozka, a doctoral Research assistant of Gozdem Kilaz (Renewable Energy Fuel Laboratory of the College of Engineering and Technology), who jointly optimize this conversion process to generate higher quality gasoline or diesel.
The conversion process includes selective extraction and hydrothermal liquefaction. Once plastic is converted into Naphtha, it can be used as raw material of other chemicals or further separated into special solvents or other products. Clean fuels derived from polyolefin waste can meet 4% of gasoline or diesel demand annually. This research result has recently been published in ACS Sustainable Chemistry and Engineering.
Wang decided to develop this technology after learning about the pollution of plastic waste to the ocean, groundwater, and the environment. About 12% of the plastic produced in the past 65 years (8.3 billion tons) has been incinerated, only 9% has been recycled, while the remaining 79% has gone to landfills or the ocean. The World Economic Forum predicts that by 2050, if people continue to throw plastic waste into water bodies, there will be more plastic waste in the ocean than fish.
This technology can recycle and convert over 90% of polyolefin plastics.
Wang said, "The treatment of plastic waste, whether it is recycled or thrown away, does not mean that the matter is over. Plastic degrades slowly and releases toxic particles and chemicals in soil and water bodies. This is a disaster because once these pollutants enter the ocean, we cannot fully recycle them
Purdue University announced that progress in global sustainable development is one of the themes of the celebration at the Giant Leaps celebration to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the founding of the university. This research echoes this theme. The "Concept Festival" of this one-year celebration has four themes, which are intended to show that Purdue University is the knowledge center for solving world problems.
Wang said she hopes this technology can promote the development of the recycling industry and quickly reduce the amount of plastic waste. She and her team are seeking investors or partners to assist them in showcasing this technology on a commercial scale. Wang's technology has been patented by the Technology Commercialization Office of the Research Foundation of Purdue University.