Plastic converted into fuel using sunlight can power vehicles
Researchers from Nanyang Technological University have turned plastic into a fuel using artificial sunlight.
Researchers from Nanyang Technological University have turned plastic into a fuel using artificial sunlight. Plastic is a non-decomposable material responsible for polluting the environment and affecting marine life.
The by-product, formic acid, that is obtained from the process can be used for energy generation by power plants and in hydrogen fuel cell-powered vehicles. The team was led by NTU Assistant Professor Soo Han Sen.
Why don’t plastics decompose?
Plastics contain carbon-carbon chemical bonds that are difficult to break down under normal conditions. It requires a high temperature to be broken down.
This new Vanadium-based photocatalyst designed by the research team has been used to break the bonds found in plastic.
The catalyst starts the process and the chemical reaction is called photocatalyst. This reaction is driven by sunlight instead of heat. Heat is used in most of the reactions and requires the burning of fossil fuels to generate it. This makes the process less environment-friendly.
Vanadium is low cost, environment-friendly and abundant. Other similar catalysts are toxic and are made up of metals such as platinum, palladium or ruthenium. The vanadium-based catalyst took six days to break down the components of plastic present in the solution. It is also used in steel alloys for vehicles and aluminium alloys for aircraft.
What can it be used for?
“We aimed to develop sustainable and cost-effective methods to harness sunlight to manufacture fuels and other chemical products,” said Assistant Professor Soo. “This new chemical treatment is the first reported process that can completely break down a non-biodegradable plastic such as polyethene using visible light and a catalyst that does not contain heavy metals.”
Scientists have looked for solutions in the past, but many of the approaches created unwanted products that made the process complicated. Photoreforming is an example, but it uses cadmium - a toxic heavy metal - as a catalyst.
The researchers now plan to improve the process to get useful byproducts such as hydrogen gas.