Despite efforts to keep plastic water bottles, packaging and other items away from landfills, only 9% plastic It is recycled in the United States. One of the biggest problems is that plastics are composed of different materials, which when mixed together limit their reuse.
Scientists at Washington State University and the University of Washington announced this week that they received $2 million grant From the National Science Foundation (NSF) to help meet this challenge.
The project includes research on technologies for mixing plastic waste and the use of chemical processes to break down plastics into basic monomers that can be used for other purposes.
“The process is designed to solve the huge challenge of the plastics industry: how to selectively deconstruct mixed municipal waste plastics. This sounds simple, but there are many technical challenges,” said Hongfei Lin, who is in charge of the project, in a statement.
Lin has been taking the lead Research It uses chemical processes to convert certain types of plastics into hydrocarbon products that can be used to make jet fuel or for other applications.The focus of the research is on plastics made of polyethylene in the form of Poly terephthalic acid Used to make plastic bottles.
Lin is an associate professor at WSU’s Gene and Linda Voiland School of Chemical Engineering and Bioengineering.
One of the disadvantages of chemical recycling—whether it is recycling mixed plastics or converting polyethylene-based plastics into components of jet fuel—is that it can require a lot of energy and generate greenhouse gases and other toxic chemicals. Lin has been committed to making the process more energy-efficient and environmentally friendly.
Mixed plastics can be separated manually, which is costly, and then melted into new products. Scientists say that recycled, melted plastics are of lower quality compared to chemically recycled materials.
The co-lead investigators of the NSF-supported project are Yong Wang from the WSU School of Chemical Engineering and Biological Engineering and Jim Pfaendtner from UW, both of whom work jointly at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.