Researchers from the University of Cambridge have developed a highly efficient solar powered reactor that can convert two problem waste streams into valuable chemical products simultaneously.
During testing problematic greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide and plastic bottles were converted into syngas (used in sustainable fuel) and glycolic acid found in facial peels, moisturisers and other anti-aging cosmetics. By changing the catalyst into the system, researchers also found that other fuels like carbon monoxide and formate could be created enabling the user flexibility to change the elements produced.
“Generally, CO2 conversion requires a lot of energy, but with our system, basically you just shine a light at it, and it starts converting harmful products into something useful and sustainable,” said Dr Motiar Rahaman co-author on the research. “Prior to this system, we didn’t have anything that could make high-value products selectively and efficiently.”
The reactor utilises next generation perovskite solar cells that are highly efficient. The speed with which the reactor can produce fuels and compounds is also at a much high rate than existing photocatalytic CO2 reduction processes.
Although only at an early stage, the system offers hope for a viable solution to the world’s growing plastic pollution problem. Globally 367 million tonnes of plastic waste was produced in 2020, a figure expected to grow exponentially in coming years.
Within five years the team hopes to broaden the type of molecules produced by the reactor to be more complex and one day see a renewable recycling plant created using these techniques.
This system isn’t just better than current processes, the reactor takes a leap forward to create a flexible renewable solution transforming the traditional take-make-waste process on its head to establish a viable closed loop. Let’s hope more renewable recycling technology like this gains support.
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