Technological watch

Researchers Convert Waste Plastic into Carbon Nanotubes for Wires

Researchers at Swansea University are working on a project that changes waste plastics into highly valuable compounds for the energy industries. Scientists are extracting carbon atoms found in waste plastics and turning them into a nanotube format that can be used for the transmission of electricity. They are producing plastic electric cables without the copper wire inside them, which can be used in residential and industrial construction.
Plastic-based Wires for Electricity & Data Transmission
Senior Lecturer, Dr. Alvin Orbaek White is leading the research group at the Energy Safety Research Institute in Swansea University. Dr. White has already developed an electrical wire made from carbon nanotubes from waste plastics that are suitable for electricity and data transmission.
The vision is to advance global energy sustainability by producing long range electricity transmission materials from waste plastics.
Dr Orbaek White said, “Converting plastics into useful materials such as carbon nanotubes can be done with a large variety of plastics. Our team has expanded the list of problem plastics to include PVdC - Polyvinyl chloride, polyesters and polypropylene to name a few.”
Plastics are a resource of carbon and hydrogen, so the key step is in developing methods of chemistry and engineering to fashion the carbon and the hydrogen into more useful materials; in this case they make graphene, vapor grown carbon fibers and carbon nanotubes.
Testing Range of Plastics for High-quality Materials
Scientists will test a large range of plastics that are problematic for traditional recycling technologies. The key philosophy is to seek a solution from within the problem. The grant of £270,000 will be provided from the Welsh Government’s Circular Economy Fund.
The capital grant will be used to test the electrical and physical properties of the carbon nanotube wires, to purchase testing equipment to ensure high quality materials are being produced from the plastics and to advance the ability for a closed-loop chemical recycling process. This grant is an indicator of the Welsh Government’s long-term strategy of plastic recycling in a circular manner.
Transition Towards Efficient Energy Sources
The research tackles two important problems facing the environment: A transition to more efficient, cleaner energy resources and providing a new life for waste plastics, keeping them out of land and sea.
Major Challenges for the Researchers
A major challenge facing recovery of plastics is that they often must be downcycled; this new work promising a route to upcycling waste materials into value-added, advanced electronics. This is the dream of the circular economy, and the research proposed should help get us there.
Carbon based nano materials are used in a variety of applications across the globe, but they are often sourced from fossil fuels. It is exciting to think that they may one day be sourced from waste plastics, giving those renewed life as advanced materials.
TrimTabs, a Swansea engineering firm creating technology solutions for positive global impact, is collaborating on the project and stated, “We are very excited about this research. This kind of fundamental science is needed in order to break out of the current recycling loop.”

Publication date: 03/12/2020

Omnexus (news)

This project has been co-funded with the support of the LIFE financial instrument of the European Union [LIFE17 ENV/ES/000438] Life programme

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Last update: 2022-01-31