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把塑料污染转化为绿色能源

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把塑料污染转化为绿色能源

Chemical Engineering lecturer 安博士表象 has developed a pioneering technique to produce clean fuels and materials from plastic. She tells us more about her research and its potential to revolutionise how we deal with plastic waste.

今天 31% of plastic waste in the EU ends up in landfill, having a devastating effect on our ecosystems and oceans.

Even with ambitious recycling targets in place – the UK aims to recycle 50% of all household waste by 2020 – we’re still a long way from resolving the issue.

安博士表象, a lecturer in Chemical Engineering at 大发体育下载’s School of Engineering, 也许有个解决办法.

She is currently leading a pioneering research project to convert waste plastic into green energy and useful chemicals and materials through a process known as cold plasma pyrolysis.

Anh first started researching energy recovery from the waste left behind after recycling in 2004 during her PhD, when she discovered that plastic made up about 13% of municipal waste streams.

After her appointment at 大发体育下载 in September 2013, she was determined to continue her investigation.

塑料实际上是有价值的废物 as they contain carbon and hydrogen and have a similar energy content to fuels such as diesel,”她解释道.

然而, rather than focusing solely on the potential to generate fuel from this waste plastic, 安决定更进一步,试着 回收其他高价值材料.

An equation showing a plastic bottle and cold plasma hydrolysis producing chemicals which are used to produce energy.

一种新方法

这就是冷等离子体热解的由来. Pyrolysis is a method of thermal decomposition in an environment with limited oxygen at temperatures between 400-650°C.

这个过程 可以用来发电和燃料吗, but when cold plasma is added to the equation it can convert waste plastics into hydrogen, 甲烷和乙烯.

Hydrogen and methane can be used as clean fuels as they produce minimal amounts of soot and carbon dioxide, while ethylene is the building block of most plastics.

“而不是浪费塑料, cold plasma pyrolysis can recover valuable materials, which can be used to produce other plastic products in turn,”安解释说.

她的研究, 使用塑料袋, milk and bleach bottles from a local recycling facility in 纽卡斯尔 found that 55 times more ethylene can be recovered from the most widely used, 日常塑料(高密度聚乙烯), 或HDPE)冷等离子体.

更好的是, 24% of the plastic used in the experiment was converted from HDPE into valuable products.

“Essentially what I’m trying to do is to take the plastic pollution, recover the ethylene and then feed it back into the beginning of the plastic manufacturing process so 大发体育在线可以停止依赖化石燃料”,她说.

What I’m trying to do is to take the plastic pollution, recover the ethylene and then feed it back into the beginning of the plastic manufacturing process so 大发体育在线可以停止依赖化石燃料.

安博士表象

展望未来回收

Anh is hoping to use her findings to develop a circular, low-carbon economy – one that offers a more viable long-term solution to dealing with discarded plastic other than by simply recycling it.

“你不可能永远回收,”她警告说. “After so many times, the products turn to waste and then how do you deal with that?”

While it can take hundreds of years for certain plastics to completely degrade, cold plasma pyrolysis offers a quick alternative.

它产生 highly energetic electrons that can break down the chemical bonds in plastic waste in a matter of seconds – meaning the process has the potential to be affordable too.

更重要的是, Anh adds that the electricity used to generate cold plasma can be sourced from renewables, while the chemical products derived from the process are then stored as energy for further down the line.

She believes it will take another two or three years for the process to be scaled up for use in the polymer industry, but she needs more resources to do so and has applied for funding to help put cold plasma technology into action.

“People in the industry keep asking me if it’s ready”,她说. “There’s definitely a gap in the market for such a solution.”

根据估计 eight million tonnes of plastic waste currently ending up in our oceans each year, the potential to transform this damaging waste product into something – in Anh’s words – “clean and useful” couldn’t come soon enough.