Innovation That Matters

The process took place within one hour and at around 220 °C | Photo source Pandu Agus Wismoyo on Unsplash

Chemical process converts plastic into jet fuel ingredients


The treatment turns the most commonly used plastic into jet fuel components and other high-value products within one hour

Spotted: Researchers Hongfei Lin and Chuhua Jia from Washington State University (WSU) have developed a new technique for recycling plastics, which reduces them to the building blocks that make up jet fuel and other products.

Scientists have been exploring the use of chemical reactions to turn plastics into the building blocks for jet fuel and other products for some time. The process involves taking the material and combining it with catalysts under high temperatures. This then reduces to organic compounds – called hydrocarbons – which act as the building blocks for different types of fuel. 

The study by WSU is novel in that it has introduced the possibility of requiring a relatively moderate temperature and short timeframe to carry out the process.

The researchers experimented with the catalysts and conditions needed to transform polyethylene, which is the most widely produced plastics in the world, into hydrocarbons. The catalyst that they used was made from carbon, the silvery-white metal ruthenium and some commonly used solvents. With this method, the scientists then were able to convert around 90 per cent of the plastic into the components for jet fuel.

The process took place within one hour and at around 220 °C (428 °F). This is both friendlier and more economically viable than the temperatures required for similar processes which hover around 500 °C (932 °F).

Through additional experimentation (altering the temperature, the amount of catalyst used or the timeframe) the team found the process could be tweaked to produce building blocks for other high-value products — such as lubricants. By scaling up this process, the WSU researchers could help to tackle other forms of plastic waste.

Written By: Katrina Lane

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