Non-biodegradable plastic bags are the scourge of landfills and picturesque landscapes everywhere. Scientists at the University of Adelaide in Australia have invented a process to transform the pesky pieces of trash into a high-tech nanomaterial. Their method uses plastic to inexpensively make carbon nanotube membranes which are found in sensing, filtration, energy storage, and medical applications.
The carbon nanotubes are 1/10,000 the diameter of a human hair and rank as one of the strongest materials ever discovered. Dramatically more robust and lighter than steel, carbon nanotubes are already found in batteries, electronic devices, and biomedical equipment.
The University of Adelaide’s team were able to grow the nanotubes in nanoporous alumina membranes. They took pieces of plastic bags and vaporized them in a furnace. The resulting particles lined the tiny pores alumina pores to form nanotubes. The whole process is solvent-free, and does not create any hazardous byproducts.
“In our laboratory, we’ve developed a new and simplified method of fabrication with controllable dimensions and shapes, and using a waste product as the carbon source,” said Professor Dusan Losic of the University’s School of Chemical Engineering.
Current practices can only produce several grams of carbon nanotubes per day, but the group believes that their technique could reach a marketable scale given the substantial amount available waste.