Plastic waste is the energy sources of the future (explanations)

  • A new process developed by British researchers makes it possible to produce hydrogen and glycolic acid from plastic materials.
  • Scientists are hopeful of approaching commercialization
  • The stakes are high, while an overwhelming majority of plastic waste is not recycled

What if plastic waste were an unsuspected source of energy? It is in any case the point of view of researchers from the University of Cambridge who have developed a system operating on solar energy. The latter makes it possible to recycle plastic and CO2 into two synthetic gases.

The first is used in particular to produce hydrogen, a fuel that emits few greenhouse gases. This process also leads to the production of glycolic acid. This name may not mean anything to you, but it is widely used in the cosmetics industry (creams, masks, and other cleansing gels).

Concretely, this technology uses compounds that accelerate the chemical reaction, in a light absorber. Clearly, everything is done naturally by exposing the product to sunlight and without further human intervention.

Environmentally friendly recycling

Quoted by our colleagues from the BBCErwin Reisner, the researcher leading this work, is very optimistic: “By combining the two, we add value to the process. We now have four value streams: reducing plastic waste, reducing CO2 and producing two valuable chemicals. We hope this will bring us closer to commercialization. »

We will therefore observe with interest whether this technology manages to be deployed on a larger scale. Either way, this innovation represents a great alternative to current chemical recycling, which uses additives to modify the structure of plastic waste in order to transport it into raw materials that can later be used to make gasoline. or diesel. This method costs a lot of money and is not very efficient.

In any case, there is urgency, and the figures are clearly chilling. There are 400 million tons of plastics produced every year in the world, and 85% of them are not recycled.

It is also estimated that currently around 5000 billion pieces of plastic are floating in the oceans. This constitutes a real trap for hundreds of species of marine animals, but also indirectly for human health.

Recently, the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC) published a study giving hope for very interesting advances in this field. Researchers have indeed been able to establish that two substances present in the saliva of waxworms make it possible to decompose polyethylene, one of the most commonly used plastics. You can also read our article on the subject here.

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