All plastic waste could become new, high-quality plastic through advanced steam cracking

phys.org | 10/15/2019 | Staff
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A research group at Chalmers University of Technology, Sweden, has developed an efficient process for breaking down any plastic waste to a molecular level. The resulting gases can then be transformed back into new plastics—of the same quality as the original. The new process could transform today's plastic factories into recycling refineries, within the framework of their existing infrastructure.

The fact that plastics do not break down, and therefore accumulate in our ecosystems, is one of our major environmental problems. But at Chalmers, a research group led by Henrik Thunman, Professor of Energy Technology, sees the resilience of plastic as an asset. The fact that it does not degrade makes it possible for circular usage, creating a true value for used plastic, and therefore an economic impetus to collect it.

Plastic - Material—it - Products - Dream - Problem

"We should not forget that plastic is a fantastic material—it gives us products that we could otherwise only dream of. The problem is that it is manufactured at such low cost, that it has been cheaper to produce new plastics from oil and fossil gas than from reusing plastic waste," says Henrik Thunman.

Now, through experimenting with chemical recovery via steam cracking of plastic, the researchers have developed an efficient process for turning used plastics into plastics of virgin quality.

Right - Temperature—which - Degrees - Heating - Rate

"Through finding the right temperature—which is around 850 degrees Celsius—and the right heating rate and residence time, we have been able to demonstrate the proposed method at a scale where we turn 200 kg of plastic waste an hour into a useful gas mixture. That can then be recycled at the molecular level to become new plastic materials of virgin quality," says Henrik Thunman.

The experiments were carried out at the Chalmers Power Central facility in Gothenburg.

Tonnes - Waste - Worldwide - Cent

In 2015, around 350 million tonnes of plastic waste were generated worldwide. In total, 14 per cent was collected...
(Excerpt) Read more at: phys.org
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