Swansea Uni in renewable-energy breakthrough

Posted on 25 Aug 2019 and read 671 times
Swansea Uni in renewable-energy breakthroughResearchers at Swansea University have found that the plastics commonly found in food packaging can be recycled to create new materials — like electric wires — and this could lead to reduced amounts of plastic waste in the future.

Only a small proportion of the hundreds of types of plastics can be recycled by conventional technology, but research published in The Journal for Carbon Research, focuses on chemical recycling, which uses the constituent elements of the plastic to make new materials.

While all plastics are made of carbon and hydrogen (and sometimes oxygen), the amounts and arrangements of these three elements make each plastic unique.

As plastics are very pure and highly refined chemicals, they can be broken down into these elements, which can then be bonded in different arrangements to make high-value materials such as carbon nanotubes.

Dr Alvin Orbaek White at Swansea University’s Energy Safety Research Institute (pictured) said: “Carbon nanotubes are tiny molecules with incredible physical properties.

“The structure looks like a piece of chicken wire wrapped into a cylinder, and when carbon is arranged like this, it can conduct both heat and electricity.

“Nanotubes can be used to make a huge range of things, such as conductive films for touch-screen displays, flexible electronic fabrics that create energy, and antennas for 5G networks.

“NASA has used them to prevent electric shocks on the Juno spacecraft.”

The research team tested plastics — in particular black plastics, which are commonly used as packaging for ready meals plus fruit and veg but cannot be easily recycled.

They removed the carbon and used it to construct nanotubes that transmitted electricity to a light bulb in a small demonstrator model.

The plan is now to make high-purity carbon electrical cables from waste plastic materials and to improve the material’s electrical performance and output, ready for large-scale deployment in the next three years.

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