Millions of tons of plastic garbage pollute our world. What if we could turn them into fuel instead?
That’s the ambitious plan of a team of scientists from the University of California, Irvine (UCI), and the Shanghai Institute of Organic Chemistry (SIOC) in China.
The technique involves breaking down the plastic to a molecular level to turn it into a readily usable fuel similar to diesel.
The source material is the most common type of plastic, polyethylene, which is predicted to reach a global annual demand of nearly 100 million metric tons by 2018.
Polyethylene is used to produce various types of packaging, from bags to bottles, but it doesn’t degrade easily and can linger in the environment for even hundreds of years.
Along with other types of plastics it pollutes waterways and oceans (one large cluster is known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch) and often gets eaten by birds and marine life.
An easy system to turn used plastic into fuel could help relieve the burden on the environment of a material that loses 95% of its value after one use cycle.