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Goodbye face masks, hello liquid fuel

India’s University of Petroleum and Energy Studies has found a new way to convert personal protection equipment (PPE) – such as face masks – into valuable fuel.

Countless face masks have been littering the streets following the COVID-19 pandemic. ‘Presently, the world is focusing on fighting the coronavirus. However, we can foresee the issue of ecological imbalance also,’ says Dr. Sapna Jain, who leads the R&D project. ‘The disposal of personal protetion equipment is a concern owing to its material, i.e. non-woven polypropylene.’

Dr. Sapna Jain in the lab.

To prevent the masks from becoming a ‘significant threat’ to the environment, Jain and her team is working around the clock to recycle the masks into something useful. Their research shows how pyrolysis can convert billions of disposable PPE items from its polypropylene state into a ‘very clean’ synthetic fuel with the same quality as fossil fuels.

The chemical process breaks down the mixed plastics at a high temperature—between 300-400 degree centigrade for an hour—without oxygen. Doing so facilitates thermal cracking of macromolecules.

‘The challenges of PPE waste management and increasing energy demand could be addressed simultaneously by the production of liquid fuel from PPE kits,’ the researchers conclude.

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