Plastic waste has been turned into hydrogen in a ground-breaking process developed by scientists at Swansea University.
Dr. Moritz Kuehnel, of the university’s chemistry department, believes the method could be cheaper than recycling as any kind of plastic – not just polyethylene terephthalate (PET) – can be used without cleaning.
It is hoped the process of turning unwanted plastics into hydrogen could fuel cars in the future.
“There’s a lot of plastic used every year – billions of tonnes – and only a fraction of it is being recycled. We are trying to find a use for what is not being recycled,” Dr. Kuehnel told the BBC.
“But even if you do recycle it, it needs to be very pure – so only PET, nothing else mixed in with it…and it has to be clean, no grease, no oil.
“Potentially you need to wash it which is very expensive, and even if you do all of that, the plastic you get isn’t always as nice as virgin material.
“The beauty of this process is that it’s not very picky. It can degrade all sorts of waste.
“Even if there is food or a bit of grease from a margarine tub, it doesn’t stop the reaction, it makes it better.
“The process produces hydrogen gas. You can see bubbles coming off the surface. You can use it, for example, to fuel a hydrogen car.”
Dr. Kuehnel says the work also shows how the remains of the plastic can be recycled to make new plastic.
“We get the hydrogen fuel and we get a chemical we can use to make new plastic,” said Dr. Kuehnel.
“We don’t make a full new plastic, we use just half of the material to make new plastic and the rest can be recycled – a clean, clear water bottle out of plastic.”
The process – still a few years from industrial level – involves adding a light-absorbing material to plastic, placing it in a solution and exposing it to sunlight, or a solar simulator lamp, to produce hydrogen.