Scientists have discovered a new way to break the most common plastic

All of this can be turned into useful chemicals.

All of this can be turned into useful chemicals.
Photo: Prakash Singh (Getty Images)

Produces more than the petrochemical industry 88 million tons Polyethylene, it makes the most common plastic in the world. Accordingly, scientists have found a new way to upcycle it Study Published in Science on Thursday. It could help address the growing plastic pollution crisis.

Polyethylene comes in many different forms and is used in everything from plastic bags and food packaging to electrical insulation and industrial piping. Because it is very common and ours The recycling system is therefore broken, We throw a shitdol of content. It can End in landfills Or The sea Where it slowly breaks down, or burns into it Garbage eruption It releases toxic chemicals.

But in a new study, the authors found a way to speed up the process of breaking down polyethylene and converting it into alkyloromatic molecules, which are used in cosmetics and laundry detergents, lubricants for machinery, and surfactants in refrigeration liquids.

“Globally, it’s a 9 9 billion market today,” said Sunnah Scott, a chemical engineer at the University of California, Camanta Barbara, who co-authored the study, in an email regarding alkalomeric molecules. “Here is the economic value and standard.”

This is not the first time scientists have discovered how polyethylene can be broken down. There are other methods of chemical recycling. But traditional methods of breaking down plastics require heating between 983 and 1832 degrees Fahrenheit (500 and 1000 degrees Celsius) and solvents or added hydrogen to speed up the process.

In contrast, the authors’ new method only requires heating it to about 570 degrees Fahrenheit (300 degrees Celsius) and uses no solvent or added hydrogen, instead relying solely on a soft catalyst comparable to platinum with aluminum oxide. Their processing helped to disassemble plastic polymers in a less rough way, allowing them to form valuable intact alkoleromatic molecules. The catalyst works, Scott saidCut the bonds that hold the polymer chain into small pieces, “eventually turning solid plastics into liquids they can extract precious wood. Chemicals from.

The authors have a new process Away Less energy than other means of breaking polyethylene. That is good news for the environment. IT is also cheaper, which is good news for companies that want to increase this. Technology is not ready for that Draws So far, but Ultimately plastic can be used to give new life as a valuable raw material instead of polluting waste.

“We dig a hole in the ground, we produce, we use, we throw,” said Santa Barbara, a chemical engineer at the University of California, Canteen, who co-authored the study, in a statement. “So in a way, this is really breaking this way of thinking. There is an interesting science to do here that will lead us to new discoveries, new patterns and new ways of doing chemistry. “

To be clear, the petrochemical industry should not be licensed to make even more plastics with this new method. However, it is still the best option to touch it Polyethylene fabrication Toxic emissions as well as climate also endanger public health. We still need to work World closed Plastic production and consumption in the first place. But new technology can help reduce the amount of waste that is eventually generated and help clean up the mess that is in our hands.