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April 14, 2022 2 min read

Plastic waste is being used to capture carbon emissions in new research… 

Researchers have found a way to capture carbon and fight theclimate crisis with plastic waste! The research team from Rice University in Houston discovered that heating plastic in the presence of a certain chemical creates particles that have the ability to capture carbon dioxide.

How do these plastic particles absorb carbon dioxide?

When plastic is combined with heat and potassium acetate it produces particles with nanometer-scale pores that capture Co2 molecules. Thank you professor! Researchers say that sources of Co2 emissions such as power plant exhaust stacks can be fitted with this material to remove large amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. A problem (plastic waste) working with another problem (carbon emissions) to create a solution (fighting climate change)! *woot woot*

This process is essentially the new and improved version of Pyrolysis. Pyrolysis AKA chemical recycling is the process of heating a material to break it down into oils, gases and waxes that can be re-used. Unfortunately the carbon byproduct isn’t useful with this method. However, if you introduce potassium acetate (the big guy we mentioned earlier), porous particles are created that can absorb up to 18% of their own weight in C02 at room temperature.

Does this include hard to recycle plastic waste?

It sure does! This new method works extremely well for hard to recycle types of polypropylene and high and low-density polyethylene, which are commonly found in landfill! Hang on, let’s give you a visual of what type of plastic products that includes.

Polypropylene (similar to High Density Polyethylene, but slightly harder and more heat resistant) is used to create:

  • Plastic parts
  • Piping systems
  • Medical or Laboratory products
  • Appliances (kettles, microwaves etc)
  • Car batteries
  • Dishes and more!

High-Density Polyethylene (strong and structured) is used to create:

  • Garbage containers
  • Baby toys
  • Water pipes
  • Jugs
  • Milk jugs
  • Butter tubs
  • Detergent bottles and more!

Low-Density Polyethylene (flexible and transparent) is used for:

  • Plastic bags
  • Cling film
  • Single-use water bottles
  • Storage containers and more!

This new method improves the recyclability of the above plastic materials and lowers their chances of heading to landfills!

What is the impact of this new carbon capture technology?

The lab estimates that the cost of carbon dioxide capture with this plastic-waste method will drop to $21 (USD) per tonne as opposed to the amine-based process which costs $80-$160 (USD) per tonne. The carbon capturing plastic can be re-used too! When heated at 75 degrees celsius, 90% of the pores re-open which releases carbon dioxide to be repurposed into fuels or construction products. 

This method creates affordable carbon capture process and improves plastic recyclability. We love seeing innovative ideas and learning how existing materials can be re-purposed, however, our mission at Go For Zero Australia is to stop waste at its source. Head to our blog to find out how you can combat climate change as an individual level byreducing your household waste.

Want more positive earth news?! Head to ourGood News Blog to be inspired.

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