New Technique Could Turn Plastic Back Into Oil, Which Is … Something
There is way too much plastic in the world—and we’re making more every day, even as we struggle to find a way to get rid of the old stuff. A new study poses an interesting solution: Melting plastic bags and bottles back into the oil it was originally made from.
The new research, published Wednesday in Science Advances, looks at a technique called pyrolysis, which essentially melts down polyolefin into its original form—aka oil and gas. Polyolefins are a very common type of plastic in everyday items from drinking straws to packaging to thermal underwear to plastic cling wrap. It accounts for two-thirds of the world’s plastic demand. The production of these kinds of plastics has been a huge boon for the oil and gas industry, and is giving fossil fuel producers a glimmer of hope for the future; while plastics only account for 14% of oil demand today, they’re projected to make up half the world’s demand for oil by 2050.
The study details a new type of technique for treating single-use plastics that, researchers say, can break down all sorts of tough-to-recycle plastics—including polyethylene bottles and bags—into liquid petrochemicals. One of the most notable things about the new technique is that it’s able to break down the plastics at lower temperatures than other pyrolysis methods, which helps transform the plastic into denser fuel and uses two to three times less energy.
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