Researchers have come up with a solution for the problem of too much plastic waste and insufficient, reliable clean energy for the masses. By turning the tons of discarded plastic bottles into fuel, we could kill two birds – or, rather, save two seabirds – with one stone.
Polyurethane makes up so much of the plastic products we use once and toss away. From water bottles to grocery bags, the non-biodegradable material lingers in our shared habitat for years. It is the most widely produced plastic in the world and its ubiquitous presence pollutes the oceans and kills marine life. Hopefully, however, this won’t be the case for long.
Scientists from the University of California Irvine and Shanghai Institute of Organic Chemistry have found a way to basically melt the substance into a usable fuel with a process that requires no harsh chemicals and produces no harmful byproducts. Alkane, an oil refinery byproduct, is used in the process, which creates a purpose for an additionally useless substance.
The only drawback is that the other two elements needed in the process, iridium and rhenium catalysts, don’t come cheap. The researchers are working on making the materials more affordable, possibly by making them recyclable. Regardless, the potential is remarkable. The fuel will burn cleanly and can power current combustion engines. George Britovsek, a Catalysis Expert at the Imperial College London not associated with the research, said, “if the kinks can be worked out, this approach may become favorable compared to the current options of recycling or burning the waste plastic.”