Discarded plastic could be used to fuel cars with a groundbreaking process developed by scientists from Swansea University in the U.K. that transforms the plastic into hydrogen.
Chemistry department researcher Moritz Kuehnel says light-absorbing materials are added to the plastic before it is placed in an alkaline solution and then exposed to sunlight, which creates hydrogen.
Kuehnel says the process could be cheaper than recycling because any kind of plastic can be used, and it does not need to be cleaned first.
“There’s a lot of plastic used every year – billions of tons – and only a fraction of it is being recycled,” he says in a statement. “We are trying to find a use for what is not being recycled.
“The beauty of this process is that it’s not very picky. It can degrade all sorts of waste. Even if there is food or a bit of grease from a margarine tub, it doesn’t stop the reaction, it makes it better.”
The process produces hydrogen gas and, Kuehnel says, “You can use it, for example, to fuel a hydrogen car.”
However, he says rolling out the project on an industrial level may be years away.
Kuehnel says the research, funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council and an Austrian petrochemical company, also has shown how the remains of the plastic could be recycled to make new plastic.
“We get the hydrogen fuel and we get a chemical we can use to make new plastic,” he says.