The University of Florida has come up with an innovative chemical recycling solution for plastic scrap. Building on existing knowledge, the new process is said to ‘dramatically lower’ the energy required to achieve depolymerisation.
The research team led by Brent Sumerlin is targeting the material quality concerns encountered in the final reprocessing stage. This yields lower-quality recycled plastic as the polymer molecules are broken down into shorter segments and mixed together.
Recent experiments suggest chemical treatment is a ‘promising strategy’ to revert polymers to their original monomer molecules. These can then be used to produce new polymers, often with similar or better properties than the recycled plastic input. Up to 90% of monomers can be recovered.
The novel methodology requires neither catalyst nor solvent and works at temperatures up to 250°C lower than current industrial methods. ‘Not only does this allow recycling of plastics with less energy but it also enables access to plastics of even better quality,’ Sumerlin says.
‘Our work is a response to the call to action proposed by the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals,’ he points out. ‘New chemical recycling strategies have become imperative to reduce the negative impact of plastic on the environment.’
Meanwhile, the university cites recent figures putting plastic recycling across Florida at only 8% per year. The bulk (almost 80%) is still landfilled. Besides, the state generates almost 30kg of plastic waste per capita every year. This grants it the title of third biggest waste generator in the country.