Scientists turn hard-to-recycle plastics into jet fuel

The breakthrough research is believed to provide a solution to the alarming issue of hard-to-recycle plastics

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Hard-to-recycle plastics, such as plastic bags, yogurt containers and plastic bottles, could soon provide planes with the fuel needed to travel.

Researchers from the University of Delaware (UD) have found a way to convert single-use plastic waste to smaller carbon molecules that can be used to make jet fuel, diesel and lubricants.

Using a novel catalyst and an energy-efficient process named hydrocracking, they were able to break down these plastics, known as polyolefins – it is estimated polyolefins currently account for up to 70% of all plastics.

The process can break down these materials in just a couple of hours at relatively low temperatures, around 250°C.

It also requires 50% less energy than other technologies and is ‘carbon-neutral’.

Dion Vlachos, the Project Principal Investigator and the Unidel Dan Rich Chair in Energy Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at UD, said: “Chemical conversion is the most versatile and robust approach to combat plastics waste.”

LaShanda Korley, Distinguished Professor of Materials Science and Engineering and Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, said: “This innovative catalytic approach is a significant advance in our quest for depolymerisation processes that involve less energy-intensive pathways and generate highly specific breakdown targets.”

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