Research Press Release

Plastics: Economical plastic upcycling into chemicals and fuel

Nature Communications

August 18, 2021

Upcycling polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic into value-added chemicals and hydrogen fuel using an earth-abundant, metal-based catalyst is demonstrated in a Nature Communications paper this week. This research offers a new sustainable solution to contribute to the management of plastic pollution.

Whilst plastic can bring convenience to our daily life, ever-increasing plastic waste is severely damaging to our ecosystems. One efficient way to eliminate plastic waste is to convert such waste into valuable products, known as upcycling. However, current techniques for plastic upcycling often require heating at elevated temperatures and the procedures yield complex product mixtures that require costly product separation.

Haohong Duan and colleagues report an earth-abundant nickel and cobalt based catalyst that facilitates conversion of polyethylene terephthalate (PET) into value-added products at room temperature. The catalyst achieves high upcycling activity and also high product selectivity, which enables easy product separation. After electrolysis and product separation, the authors achieve conversion of one kilogram of solid plastics into commercially valuable solid chemicals, such as potassium diformate, which is commonly used in animal feed, and hydrogen gas fuel. The authors also evaluate the economic feasibility of this process and estimate a net revenue of approximately US$350 for upcycling one tonne of waste plastic.

The authors conclude that the results show the potential of electrochemical upcycling as a future strategy for plastic waste removal.


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