This article was contributed by Salka Bani of FCC partner IASP 

Globally, 3.28 billion tons of plastic are discarded each year and only 9% of these are reused.

While the regulation of large waste producers, especially in the European Union, is well managed to a great degree since it is required to be by law, waste control on a smaller scale, for instance at a household level, is harder to oversee. In addition, there is a widespread idea about the recyclability of plastic waste. A large number of people and consumers believe that all plastics are recyclable. However, this is not the case as only certain types of plastic are recyclable, since this depends on the type of plastic with which they have been manufactured. For instance, a polyethylene bottle is 100% recyclable while a pigmented plastic container is not.

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However, an international team of researchers has recently developed a chemical recycling process that converts plastic waste into fuel at low temperatures.

This group of scientists has devised a method capable of converting waste from single-use plastics such as glasses, cutlery, or straws into molecules that can be used to create new fuels of multiple applications. This new finding consists mainly in cracking the strong polymer chains formed in these plastics, known as Polyolefins or Polyalkenes, which are the most common plastic materials nowadays days representing between 60% and 70% of all polymers produced.

Although it is also true that similar processes have been created before, the researchers explain that this new method does not release CO2 into the atmosphere and can be carried out at ‘low’ temperatures in no more than two hours.

“Chemical conversion is the most versatile and robust approach to combat plastics waste,” said Dion Vlachos, the project’s principal investigator and the Unidel Dan Rich Chair in Energy Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at UD. Vlachos also remarks that “This makes them ready-to-use molecules for high-value lubricant or fuel applications.”

This new finding opens the doors to the use, development and commercialisation of new and more sustainable fuels. Moreover, progressively automotive or transport companies are looking for new combustion methods and techniques that are greener for the environment, and just as durable and efficient as traditional fuels.