More than 300 million tons of plastic waste are produced annually, which causes serious environmental problems due to the life cycle of plastic and the difficulty of its elimination. Accordingly, most plastic waste ends up either in a landfill or in the ocean. Significant amounts of plastic waste decompose into microplastics, which are swallowed by fish and other marine animals, causing devastation in marine ecosystems.

In the top journal Journal of Renewable and Sustainable Energy, researchers from California State Polytechnic University published a paper reporting on the use of catalytic pyrolysis (the presence of catalysts) to turn plastic waste into a valuable fuel source. Pyrolysis is the thermochemical decomposition of a carbon-based material in the absence of oxygen.

Researchers have focused on recycling plastics and upgrading plastics to other products or converting them to heat vapor. Under the influence of the catalyst, the desired fuel-like product is obtained. This pyrolytic process converts primary organic waste into a sustainable fuel or other valuable chemical.

The catalyst is key

“The innovative part of the experiment is the catalyst. The catalyst is key to this particular pyrolysis process, as it only takes one step to reach the desired fuel product at relatively mild temperatures, ”said study author Mingheng Li.

The catalyst was prepared by immersing the zeolite substrate in an aqueous solution containing nickel and tungsten, drying in an oven at 500 degrees Celsius. The synthesized catalyst was used in combination with a single-stage pyrolytic reactor designed in the laboratory, which operated at a given temperature point of 360 degrees C, to separate the mixture of plastic food bags.

The catalytic process used in this experiment on plastic waste could also be used to process other waste, such as manure, municipal solid waste and used motor oil, to make usable energy products.

“This pyrolysis process serves as a definite step in reducing reliance on fossil fuels,” Lee said.

Plastic diesel

The researchers found that the product obtained after pyrolysis was very similar to the standard diesel fuel product. The method of gas chromatographic analysis is used, a type of chromatography used in analytical chemistry for separation and analysis of compounds that can evaporate without decomposition.

In the future, the team will work on explaining the mechanism of cracking, which occurs on the surface of the catalyst. In addition, they will try to optimize the production of diesel fuel from various mixtures of plastic waste.

E2 portal (Energy of the Balkans)

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