Plastic and greenhouse gases can be converted into sustainable fuels

A revolutionary new system developed in the UK is promising what for many seems unthinkable: generating green power from high-polluting sources using solar energy.

Researchers at the University of Cambridge are behind the innovative solution, which essentially takes two waste streams and turn them into two chemical product simultaneously.

assorted clothes hanging on rack

While this may not sound particularly groundbreaking, it’s the first time this has been achieved with a solar-powered reactor, with carbon dioxide (CO2) and plastics able to be converted into different products suited to a wide range of industries. In one of the trials, the waste materials were turned into syngas, a key building block for sustainable liquid fuels, while plastics became glycolic acid, which is needed by the cosmetics sector.

These are just two examples, though, with the system able to be tweaked for new end-products by changing the catalyst used in the reaction. Those responsible believe that this scientific advancement could help tackle the two greatest threats to the environment, and life on Earth. 

‘Converting waste into something useful using solar energy is a major goal of our research,’ said Professor Erwin Reisner from the Yusuf Hamied Department of Chemistry, the paper’s senior author. ‘Plastic pollution is a huge problem worldwide, and often, many of the plastics we throw into recycling bins are incinerated or end up in landfill.

‘A solar-driven technology that could help to address plastic pollution and greenhouse gases at the same time could be a game-changer in the development of a circular economy,’ added Subhajit Bhattacharjee, the paper’s co-first author.

Air Quality News‘ sister title, Environment Journal, regularly reports on the global plastics crisis currently unfolding across the planet, including a new law suit filed by ClientEarth against plastic giant Danone

Image: Nareeta Martin





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