The researchers - from China, the UK, and Saudi Arabia - say the plastic to hydrogen converting process simplifies the usual way to deal with plastic waste
Researchers at universities and institutions in the UK, China and Saudi Arabia have developed a new method of converting plastic waste into hydrogen gas that can be used as a clean fuel and high-value solid carbon.
This was achieved by those at the Edwards/ Xiao group at the University of Oxford’s Department of Chemistry with a new type of catalysis that uses microwaves to activate catalyst particles, which effectively strips hydrogen from polymers.
The study was conducted to help address the huge environmental problem created by the ever-increasing use of plastics over the last half-century.
Currently, most of the 4.9 billion tonnes of plastics ever produced will end up in landfills or the natural environment, and this number is expected to increase to around 12 billion tonnes by 2050.
The University of Oxford’s Professor Peter Edwards said: “This is not good applied science, but rather good science, applied.
“It opens up an entirely new area of catalysis in terms of selectivity and offers a potential route to the challenge of the plastic waste armageddon, particularly in developing countries as one route to the hydrogen economy – effectively enabling them to leap-frog the sole use of fossil fuels.
“Perhaps above all else – it is absolutely critical for a fundamental understanding of the chemistry, physics and electronic engineering of the mesoscale regime in catalysis that underpins any important applied advance in our quest for sustainable energy advances.”
More than 97% of hydrogen in plastic can be extracted in a very short time, say researchers
The study, published in Nature Catalysis, details how the researchers mixed mechanically-pulverised plastic particles with a microwave-susceptor catalyst of iron oxide and aluminium oxide.
This was then subjected to microwave treatment, creating a large volume of hydrogen gas and residue materials, which were mostly identified as carbon nanotubes.
The researchers say this plastic to hydrogen and solid carbon converting process simplifies the usual way to deal with plastic waste, demonstrating that more than 97% of hydrogen in plastic can be extracted in a very short time.
They also believe this method could represent an attractive potential solution for the problem of plastic waste – so instead of polluting land and oceans, plastics could be used as a valuable feedstock for producing clean hydrogen fuel and value-added carbon products.