Scientists find way to turn plastic waste into oil

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In Denmark, something amazing is happening with plastic waste – the kind that we can’t recycle.

Researchers and business experts have developed a cool new technology that can turn this plastic into oil.

This isn’t just any oil; it’s a special kind that can be used to make new plastic and other products. This big step forward was recently showcased in a new facility in West Zealand, Denmark.

Have you ever wondered what happens to the plastic you throw into the recycling bin? The garbage truck takes it to a place where it gets sorted.

Some of it is recycled, but a lot of it, especially the dirty or mixed types, can’t be recycled.

In Denmark alone, about 370,000 tons of this plastic is burned every year. This burning contributes a lot to the country’s carbon emissions, which is bad for the planet.

Wouldn’t it be great if we could recycle more of our plastic waste? And if we could also cut down on the amount of new plastic we make from non-renewable resources like oil and natural gas?

That’s exactly what a team of researchers at the Technical University of Denmark (DTU), along with other partners, is trying to do.

They started a project called RePlastic. They found that they can make valuable oil from the plastic waste we usually can’t use. Anders Egede Daugaard, an associate professor at DTU and the head of this project, is really excited about this.

He says that this new method, called pyrolysis, can handle all the tricky types of plastic that we didn’t know what to do with before. It’s like giving new life to old plastic.

But why is recycling plastic so complicated? Well, plastic comes in many different types. Just look at your own trash: there are hard plastics, soft ones, colored ones, and clear ones. Some plastic comes from factories and is pretty uniform, but the plastic from our homes is a mixed bag.

Normally, we have to sort our plastic waste before it can be recycled. That’s because each type of plastic has different chemical additives and melting points. If you mix them up, you can’t make good quality new plastic.

The RePlastic project focused on using pyrolysis for what’s called chemical recycling. Here’s how it works: the plastic waste is heated up in a special furnace filled with nitrogen. This breaks down the chemical components of the plastic.

Because there’s no oxygen in the furnace, the plastic doesn’t burn up. Instead, it turns into a gas, which is then made into pyrolysis oil. This oil can be used to make fuel or new plastic products.

The researchers had to figure out which types of plastic could be used for pyrolysis and how clean the plastic needed to be.

They first thought that the plastic waste had to be really clean to make good pyrolysis oil. But they found out that’s not the case. The technology can handle the dirt and mix-ups in our usual plastic waste.

This project moved quickly from a test idea to a real-world solution. The company Waste Plastic Upcycling (WPU) played a big role in this.

They specialize in turning plastic waste into different types of oil. Thanks to the project’s success, WPU attracted investors, built a large pyrolysis facility, and hired staff.

Niels Bagge, the CEO of WPU, says there’s a lot of interest in this technology, both in Denmark and abroad. It’s financially appealing and environmentally friendly because it doesn’t need intense sorting and cleaning of the plastic waste.

However, the future role of pyrolysis in our waste system will depend on various factors. It’s clear, though, that this technology could be a game-changer in recycling the tougher types of plastic waste.

Former DTU Professor Thomas Fruergaard Astrup, who looked into the sustainability of this technology, believes that pyrolysis could become an important part of our plastic recycling efforts, helping turn what was once trash into valuable resources.