Technology to turn plastic waste into jet fuel

Washington State University has developed a new method to convert plastic waste into jet fuel and valuable hydrocarbon products.

In a report in the journal Chem Catallysis , Washington State University (WSU) says the new technique is highly cost-effective with the ability to convert nearly 90% of the input materials. The process is also quick, taking less than an hour from start to finish, and operates at moderate temperatures.

The team believes their approach will give more impetus to future plastic recycling initiatives. "In the recycling industry, cost is the key factor. This work is a big step forward for us to bring the new plastic conversion technology to commercialization," emphasized lead author Hongfei Lin from WSU.

Plastic can be converted into components to produce jet fuel.  Photo: Lee Rosario.

Plastic can be converted into components to produce jet fuel. Photo: LeeRosario .

Plastic pollution has become a global problem. According to the World Economic Forum, about 10 million tons of plastic are ending up in the ocean each year, and this number is expected to continue to rise despite efforts to collect and recycle trash.

Currently, most plastic waste is recycled mechanically, through melting and reshaping to create new products, but this process reduces the economic value and quality of the recovered plastic. Another method is chemical recycling which produces higher quality products, but is costly and time consuming if applied on a large scale. In other words, none of these solutions create the financial incentive to promote plastic recycling around the world.

For the new Washington State University method, the team used ruthenium on a carbon catalyst and a common solvent to trigger the molecular reduction. Their process can convert about 90% of plastic into components used to make jet fuel at a temperature of 220 degrees Celsius, much lower than the temperature at which traditional mechanical recycling methods are concerned. which means it's easier to scale for commercialization.

By tweaking the conversion time, temperature, or amount of catalyst, the team can also create valuable hydrocarbon products or plastic-derived materials as desired.

"The new method is very flexible. Depending on the market, we can tailor the product to be made. The adoption of this efficient process could provide a promising approach to selective manufacturing. filter high-value products from waste polyethylene," added Lin.

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