Purdue researchers testing new method to reduce plastic waste

Researchers are testing a new process that could convert polyolefin, a form of plastic, into reusable products like fuel.

Posted: May. 13, 2019 5:23 PM

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind.  (WLFI) - Researchers in Purdue's Fuel Laboratory of Renewable Energy are working to answer the world's plastic waste problem.

They are testing a new process that could convert polyolefin, a form of plastic, into new products.

"By doing this, we hope to motivate industry and the public to help to reduce the plastic waste accumulation,” said Chemical Engineering Professor Linda Wang.

The process involves supercritical water. This is heated water in a physical state between a liquid and gas. It acts as a solvent on harmful waste such as plastic.

Only 10 percent of plastics were recycled between 1960 and 2015. The World Economic Forum predicts there will be more plastic waste in the ocean than fish by the year 2050.

Wang is partnering with Engineering Technology professor Gozdem Kilaz to create a solution.

One of the products that can be obtained from breaking down plastics is fuel.

"Our job in this project is to be able to go and see if the properties of these fuel cuts are acceptable for approving these fuels to be deployed in the transportation vehicles,” said Kilaz.

The group estimates creating these greener fuels can meet four percent of the annual demand for diesel or gasoline fuels while reducing production costs.

"When we're producing the fuels from sustainable sources, the feedstock costs are about 30 to 35 percent of the whole cost of the process,” said Kilaz.

The pair has already started small scale testing. And they believe the research would make a positive impact on a larger scale.

"If we can manage to be able to utilize what is actually toxic to the environment and not have to spend as many, it will be a wonderful win-win situation,” said Kilaz.

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