International effort uses low-power technique to break down plastics into usable fuel

plastics recyle new technique diesel plastic bottles
With an estimated 100 million metric tons of non-biodegradable polyethylene plastic produced every year — not to mention other popular plastics — it’s no wonder that we have a plastics waste problem. From bags to bottles, there’s a lot of it out there sitting in landfills and floating in our oceans, so a new technique to transform that plastic into a usable, rather clean fuel has exciting ramifications.

Although there are methods of eliminating plastics like polyethylene from the world, they often require high heat and can lead to a messy breakdown into relatively useless compounds. The idea behind the joint U.S.-China team of Xiangqing Jia, Chuan Qin, Tobias Friedberger, Zhibin Guan and Zheng Huang is to make it possible to break down the plastic in a low-energy fashion and to produce something useful at the other end.

Using a technique of catalytic breakdown developed by Alan Goldman and Zheng Huang known as tandem catalytic cross alkane metathesis, the team was able to take polyethylene and strip it down to much simpler hydrocarbons, effectively creating a diesel fuel, with some additional waxes, which can be used in industrial settings, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Related: Reflow turns plastic waste into 3D print filament, sends profits back to waste pickers

The precise process for the technique, which was detailed in Science Advances, is a lengthy one, but it involves utilizing catalysts like an iridium-based compound to break down the chains into something much more manageable.

The process could not only provide a means of recycling a material that was previously hard to dispose of, but could also turn that material into fuel, which would provide a financial incentive. Such an advance could also potentially help encourage the cleaning of the world’s oceans of plastics.

The hope moving forward is that the researchers can turn the technique into one that can operate at a larger, industrial scale.


Exclusive: The Surface Hub 2S will revolutionize work. Here’s how it was made

Exclusive interviews with the designers, futurists, and visionaries behind the Surface Hub 2 paint a dramatic picture of how Microsoft thinks collaboration will change your office.
Emerging Tech

Adidas has created a running shoe that’s made to be remade

Adidas has unveiled the Futurecraft Loop running shoe that it claims is the first-ever performance footwear to be 100% recyclable. The shoe is the latest green initiative by the sportswear company and will go on sale in 2021.
Movies & TV

The best shows on Netflix right now (April 2019)

Looking for a new show to binge? Lucky for you, we've curated a list of the best shows on Netflix, whether you're a fan of outlandish anime, dramatic period pieces, or shows that leave you questioning what lies beyond.
Emerging Tech

MIT’s bot sifts through trash to do your recycling for you

Engineers from MIT have developed a new recycling robot that’s capable of automating the process of sifting through tons of trash to distinguish between paper, plastic and metal items.
Emerging Tech

Pepsi, StartRocket team up to launch satellites for energy drink ad in night sky

Pepsi is working with StartRocket to launch an energy drink advertisement into the night sky using miniature satellites. The Russian startup is looking to send its system into orbit in 2021.
Emerging Tech

Public vote opens for new planet name, but Planet McPlanetface won’t fly

The largest unnamed world in our solar system needs an official title, and you can help choose it. The scientists who discovered the icy planetoid recently announced details of a public vote offering three choices.
Emerging Tech

How MIT hacked horticulture to cultivate a hyper-flavorful basil plant

At MIT, Caleb Harper used his personal food computers to alter the climate in which he grew basil. Exposing it light for 24 hours a day changed the flavor profile of the plant, making it spicier and stronger.
Emerging Tech

Watch the fearsome DroneHunter X3 pluck rogue UAVs out of the sky

How do you stop enemy drones in their tracks? DroneHunter X3 is a new autonomous anti-drone technology which outruns and then captures rogue drones in midair. Check it out in action.
Emerging Tech

SpaceX’s main Falcon Heavy booster is lost at sea after falling off drone ship

SpaceX has lost the center core of its Falcon Heavy rocket after a successful mission last week that ended with it landing on a drone ship. SpaceX said rough seas resulted in the rocket toppling over and falling into the ocean.
Emerging Tech

Sweden is building a road that recharges electric buses that drive over it

The Swedish transport administration is exploring special roads which will charge vehicles’ batteries as they drive over them. It will test the idea with a short sample stretch of road.
Emerging Tech

Scientists manage to 3D print an actual heart using human cells

Scientists at Tel Aviv University have achieved a world-first by 3D printing a small-scale heart, complete with blood vessels, ventricles, and chambers. Here's why that's so exciting.
Emerging Tech

Drown out noisy neighbors and rest easy with these white noise machines

Some people are more sensitive to sound during sleep than others. Luckily, there are a number of white noise machines on the market to mask the noise. Here are our five of our current favorites.
Emerging Tech

Feast your eyes on the wildest, most elaborate Rube Goldberg machines ever built

Want to see something totally mesmerizing? Check out several of the best Rube Goldberg machines from across the internet, including one that serves cake and others that do ... nothing particularly useful.
Emerging Tech

Watch a pack of SpotMini robot dogs perform a terrifying feat of strength

Boston Dynamics' SpotMini robotic dog is now going around in packs, and the results are somewhat concerning. Check out the video to see what kind of shenanigans 10 of them got up to recently ...