Scientists at the University of Cambridge have created a device that uses only solar energy to convert plastic trash and greenhouse gases into sustainable fuels and other valuable items. The Cambridge University team said the system can convert two waste streams into two chemical products at the same time.
The reactor converts carbon dioxide (CO2) and plastic into a variety of products utilized in a variety of industries. The experiments transformed CO2 into syngas, a vital component of sustainable liquid fuels, and plastic bottles into glycolic acid, which is widely utilized in the cosmetics industry.
Researchers explained that by modifying the type of catalyst utilized in the reactor, the system may readily be tweaked to produce different chemicals. “Transforming waste into something useful using solar energy is the main goal of our study,” said Professor Erwin Reisner, the senior author of the paper. “Plastic pollution is a huge problem around the world, and often a lot of the plastics we throw in our trash cans are incinerated or end up in landfills.”
What distinguishes this solar reactor is its ability to foster a circular economy, in which we can generate valuable things from garbage rather than throwing it away; this is critical if we are to seriously address the climate crisis and protect the natural world and powering these solutions with the sun implies that we are doing so cleanly and sustainably.
Scientists at Cambridge University want to further expand the reactor over the next five years to manufacture more complicated chemicals, and they believe that similar approaches could one day be utilized to develop an all-solar-powered reprocessing plant.