Scientists Find New Way To Break Down And Reuse The Most Common Plastic
Plastic pollution is a growing concern, but scientists are working to address it, and a team has now found a way to break down polyethylene more effectively.
In 2017, 100 million tons of polyethylene resin was produced, and because it does not biodegrade, it has a serious impact on the planet. Often the plastic goes to landfills or is burnt, which releases toxic chemicals, but a new study has discussed how the plastic can be broken down and reused quicker – it should be noted, however, that polyethylene is never fully recyclable.
Scientists have found a way to break down polyethylene at a lower temperature and turn it into alkylaromatic molecules. These molecules can be repurposed and used in cosmetics and machinery lubrication. What makes this method unique is how significantly lower the temperature required to breakdown the material is. The temperature only has to reach 300 degrees celsius in this method, which is a lot lower than the 500 to 1000 degrees celsius that is usually required.
This temperature difference is important because it reduces the fossil fuels required to retool polyethylene. Due to this saving on fossil fuels, the catalyst of platinum with aluminium oxide seems to have a bright future, and the team believe it has a commercial value.
Susannah Scott, a chemical engineer at University of California who co-authored the study, spoke to Gizmodo about the value of the study, explaining, ‘Globally, it’s a $9 billion market today, there is economic value and scale here.’
It seems that the process that Scott explains ‘cut[s] the bonds which hold the polymer chain into smaller pieces’ could be an economic success and help reduce the global imprint of polyethylene.
This is a positive step in the retooling of plastics, but looking forward it seems that companies will have to begin looking at plastic alternatives, as the environmental impact of polyethylene becomes more severe.
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