Solar-Driven Technology Converts Plastic Into Fuel

Solar-Driven Technology Converts Plastic Into Fuel, Moreover finding new fuels and ways to transition away from traditional fossil-based energy sources and cut down greenhouse gas emissions in the move towards renewable and sustainable energy supplies is high on the agenda to help tackle the current climate crisis. Recently, a team of researchers at the University of Cambridge has developed a system that is able to convert both plastic waste and greenhouse gases into a sustainable fuel using a solar-powered reactor. Published in the journal Nature Synthesis, the team reports how the solar-powered system could play an important role in the energy transition and help mitigate the plastic pollution problem.

Tunable Solar-Powered Recycling

Solar-Driven Technology Converts Plastic Into Fuel By harnessing the energy from the sun, the system converts  plastics and carbon dioxide (CO2) into useful products which hold value to various industries. While promising, existing solar-powered recycling techniques usually focus on only one aspect of addressing the plastic problem or recycling greenhouse gases that require large amounts of energy. Yet, the novel innovation in this new technology paves the way towards combining both processes into a single system process by pairing solar-powered carbon dioxide conversion with plastic reforming.

Solar-Driven Technology Converts Plastic Into Fuel, Moreover the solar-powered system is tunable by simply changing the type of catalyst used in the reactor, which enables the production of different products depending on the final result required. During the early tests, the team was able to convert COinto syngas, a key building block in the development of sustainable liquid fuels, while plastic waste was transformed into glycolic acid, a commonly used ingredient by the cosmetics industry.

Towards a Circular Economy

Taking waste products and converting them into something useful rather than sending them to landfill sites or releasing them into the environment, which causes harm to the planet, is key to building a circular economy and addressing the climate crisis, which are important motivators for the Cambridge team.  The researchers built an integrated reactor split into two compartments: one for plastic and the other for greenhouse gases. Rather than using conventional silicon-based solar cells, the team opted to use perovskite, which is a promising alternative light absorber. The perovskite-based photocathode enables the use of different CO2-reduction catalysts, which increases the overall potential of the system. When testing the reactor under normal conditions, the team was able to demonstrate effective recycling of PET plastic bottles and CO2 conversion at a rate that exceeded traditional photocatalytic methods.



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