Although plastic is a strong, cheap and hygienic material, its durability presents major problems when it comes to the environment.
Unable to decompose when buried and casting off toxic smoke when burned, the global community has been struggling to find an effective way to recycle and reuse plastic waste.
Often a labor-intensive and time-consuming process, sorting through different types of plastic materials at recycling facilities can be extremely difficult.
But Licella, an Australian company, may have found a viable way.
“So the process works by taking heat and cutting the plastic into small pieces,” said University of Sydney Professor Thomas Maschmeyer, who created the groundbreaking technological solution along with CEO Len Humphreys.
“The plastic goes from a solid to a wax, to a liquid, to a gas, and that process is called pyrolysis,” he told Xinhua.
A number of researchers have been looking into pyrolysis for a number of years as a way to solve the world’s plastic crisis, and it’s been very unsuccessful so far.
That’s because the process gives rise to an unstable oil with a very low liquid yield that’s mostly unusable.
But by employing a new patented technique involving something scientists call “supercritical water”, Maschmeyer and the team at Licella have managed to make it work.
Most people know water in the form of solid, liquid or gas, and gas can become so compressed that it acts like a liquid at a certain temperature and pressure, which is a state called supercritical.
“So what happens is, the water suddenly changes from steam into a solvent that dissolves things… and we’re able to activate the hydrogen in the water and it then reacts with the decomposing plastic and then we add (more) hydrogen to the decomposing plastic to stabilize it.”
As a result, the liquids yields are between 80-90 percent, making the process extremely viable economically.
The finished product can then be turned into new plastics, diesel gas oils, industrial waxes and even road bitumen.
Already with a demonstration plant in Sydney, Maschmeyer said the company is now set to launch their first commercial facility in Britain next year.
The professor said there’s always going to be more than one answer, as there’s no “silver bullet”, but they have found one answer to a large chunk of the plastic waste around the world. Endtiem