From peels to plas­tic

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - ECOWATCH -

PLAS­TIC waste is one of the worst forms of trash be­cause it takes so long to de­grade, thus over­flow­ing our land­fills and pol­lut­ing our oceans and water­ways. But what if we could make plas­tic from a re­cy­cled, nat­u­ral, biodegrad­able source?

That’s the idea be­hind a new tech­nol­ogy de­vel­oped by Bri­tish sci­en­tists that uses mi­crowaves to turn plant­based waste, such as orange peels, into eco-friendly plas­tic, ac­cord­ing to Lon­don’s The Independent.

Re­searchers have cre­ated a part­ner­ship with the juice­mak­ing in­dus­try in Brazil and have launched the Orange Peel Ex­ploita­tion Com­pany to demon­strate the tech­nol­ogy on a large scale.

“There are eight mil­lion tonnes of orange residue in Brazil. For ev­ery orange that’s squeezed to make juice, about half of it is wasted,” said James Clark, pro­fes­sor of green chem­istry at the Univer­sity of York in Bri­tain and de­vel­oper of the new ap­proach. “What we’ve dis­cov­ered is that you can re­lease the chem­i­cal and en­ergy po­ten­tial of orange peel us­ing mi­crowaves.”

The tech­nique works by fo­cus­ing high-pow­ered mi­crowaves on plant-based ma­te­rial, trans­form­ing the tough cel­lu­lose mol­e­cules of the plant mat­ter into volatile gases. Those gases are then dis­tilled into a liq­uid that re­searchers say can be used to make plas­tic. The process works at 90% ef­fi­ciency, and it can be used on a va­ri­ety of plant waste.

Orange peels are par­tic­u­larly good for this tech­nique be­cause they are rich in a key chem­i­cal, d-limonene, which is also an in­gre­di­ent in many clean­ing prod­ucts and cos­met­ics.

“The unique fea­ture of our mi­crowave is that we work at de­lib­er­ately low tem­per­a­tures. We never go above 200°C. You can take the limonene off or you can turn limonene into other chem­i­cals,” he said. “It works re­ally well with waste pa­per. It can take a big range of bio-waste ma­te­rial,” Clark said.

The en­vi­ron­men­tal ben­e­fit of this tech­nol­ogy goes be­yond de­vel­op­ing a more biodegrad­able plas­tic. It also re­cy­cles plant waste which is nor­mally dis­carded. – Mother Na­ture Net­work/MCT In­for­ma­tion Ser­vices

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