At present, human beings are facing a very serious problem of plastic waste, and this problem will only continue to expand in the future. To turn the plastic waste into treasure, a team of researchers from Nanyang Technological University (NTU) in Singapore has found a new breakthrough: turning it into a chemical that can generate electricity in hydrogen fuel cells by exposing it to sunlight.
A key breakthrough in this scientific project is a new type of photocatalyst that uses light to drive chemical reactions. In search of new ways to turn plastic waste into useful chemicals, the NTU team experimented with various materials and eventually found a high-cost, biocompatible metal, vanadium. The metal is now widely used in cars, aircraft steel, aluminum alloys, scientists have found that the metal can play a very important role in plastic recycling.
By adding a tantalum-based catalyst to a solution with plastic waste, heating it to 85 degrees C (185 degrees F) and exposing it to artificial sunlight, after six days the team was able to destroy key structures in the plastic structure. Scientists have used the sun’s light to find a greener way forward, having previously used high temperatures to break these carbon-carbon bonds.
But the scientific study not only broke these carbon-carbon bonds, but also converted the plastic waste into formic acid. This is a natural antibacterial agent and the simplest combination of hydrogen and carbon dioxide as we know it. This makes it one of the candidates for liquid hydrogen carriers in fuel cell vehicles. If the acid can be obtained from plastic waste, the prototype plant is estimated to generate 7,000 kWh of electricity per year, which is completely zero-emissions.
The paper is published in Science Advances.