UK scientists use solar energy to convert plastic and CO2 into sustainable fuels
Author: Nicky Harley
Scientists have discovered a way of using solar energy to transform plastic waste and greenhouse gases into sustainable fuels. Researchers from the University of Cambridge have developed a system that converts two waste streams into two products simultaneously. The reactor converts carbon dioxide and plastics into different products that are useful in a range of industries. Tests of the reactor under normal temperature and pressure conditions showed that the reactor could efficiently convert plastic bottles and CO2 into different carbon-based fuels such as CO, syngas or formate, in addition to glycolic acid. “Converting waste into something useful using solar energy is a major goal of our research,” said Professor Erwin Reisner from the Yusuf Hamied Department of Chemistry, the paper’s senior author. “Plastic pollution is a huge problem worldwide, and often, many of the plastics we throw into recycling bins are incinerated or end up in landfill.” Prof Reisner also leads the Cambridge Circular Plastics Centre, which aims to eliminate plastic waste with new thinking with practical measures. He says other solar-powered recycling technologies hold promise for addressing plastic pollution and for reducing the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, but they have not been combined in a single process. “A solar-driven technology that could help to address plastic pollution and greenhouse gases at the same time could be a game-changer in the development of a circular economy,” said Subhajit Bhattacharjee, the paper’s co-first author.