Researchers Just Found a Brilliant Way to Convert Plastic Waste Into Fuel
A team of chemists at Purdue University found a way to convert a common type of plastic waste, polypropylene, into gasoline and diesel-like fuel, according to Motherboard.
The researchers heated water to between 716 and 932 degrees Fahrenheit, reaching a phase known as supercritical water, and added polypropylene plastic. Within a few hours, depending on the heat level, the plastic turned into oil, according to the research published in the journal ACS Sustainable Chemistry Engineering.
Polypropylene is a highly durable, heat-resistant type of plastic that’s often used to make lids and food containers.
If this method becomes viable on a large-scale, it could provide companies with an easy way to reduce plastic pollution, a target of the United Nations’ Global Goal 12. In fact, the researchers claim that up to 90% of the world’s polypropylene could be converted into fuel each year through this process.
The glaring downside of the enterprise is that it creates a fossil fuel that will likely be sold for use. As a result, greenhouse gas emissions could be added to the atmosphere when the oil byproduct is burned for energy, intensifying climate change
Plastic waste disposal, whether recycled or thrown away, does not mean the end of the story,” Linda Wang, lead author of the report and a chemist at Purdue, told Motherboard. “Plastics degrade slowly and release toxic microplastics and chemicals into the land and the water. This is a catastrophe because once these pollutants are in the oceans, they are impossible to retrieve completely.”
In recent years, scientists have devised unique ways to break down and reuse plastic.
Some companies are repurposing ocean plastic waste into new product lines, and entrepreneurs are creating everything from boats and roads out of plastic waste.
The long-term solution to this crisis will be entirely new and biodegradable alternatives to plastic. In the meantime, existing plastic just might have to be boiled into oil.
This article is abridged from a version that appears in the post of Global Citizen.