A group of scientists in India have developed a process to transform disused plastic bags into usable fuel. Researchers at the National Institute of Technology and the Centurion University of Technology and Management Odisha are targeting low-density polyethylene plastics, or LDPE, for their high petrochemical content. Rather than simply recycling the plastics into new plastic products, the process extracts useful fuel from the petroleum-based bags, diverting waste from the landfill while also creating energy.
It’s true that plastic bags have been banned in many areas across the United States, but their presence still remains, creating hazards on land and in our many waterways. In order to combat this problem, the researchers sought to add another step in the lifecycle of plastic products by reverting them to their petrochemical components.
The process involves a low-heating technique that combines the plastic waste with kaolin, a clay mineral and catalyst. The gentle heating (around 400 Celsius) causes the plastic to break down in a process called thermo-catalytic degradation. Through this process, carbon-rich molecules similar to petrochemicals are released.
If the process is enacted on a large scale, the resulting petrochemical-like fuel could be used to power machinery or possibly even vehicles. LDPE plastic can not only be found in plastic bags, but also containers, medical equipment and computer components, which could all potentially be recycled into fuel if the process is perfected.