“Synthetic plastics are a fundamental part of modern life, but our use of them in large volume has created serious environmental problems,” Zhibin Guan, UCI chemist said. “Our goal through this research was to address the issue of plastic pollution as well as achieving a beneficial outcome of creating a new source of liquid fuel,” said Mr. Guan.
Mr. Guan and Zheng Huang, his collaborator at SIOC, along with their colleagues have found a way to break down the strong bonds of polyethylene.
Their technique centers on the use of alkanes to scramble and separate polymer molecules into other useful compounds. These findings were recently published in Science Advances.
Scientists have been looking for a way to recycle plastic bags, bottles and other trash with less toxic or energy intensive methods. Using caustic chemicals known as radicals or heating the material to more than 700 degrees Fahrenheit are some of the current approaches.
However, in this new technique, the team degrades plastics in a milder and more efficient manner through a process known as cross-alkane metathesis.
The substances needed for the new method are byproducts of oil refining.
Guan said the team is still working on a few issues to make the technique more efficient. The team is working on increasing the catalyst activity and lifetime, decreasing the cost and developing catalytic processes to turn other plastic trash into treasure.