Research Highlights | Published:

Organic chemistry

Plastic waste turned into fuel

Nature volume 534, page 439 (23 June 2016) | Download Citation


Plastic from bottles and bags can be degraded into liquid fuels and waxes using available catalysts.

Polyethylene is the world's most common plastic, but is difficult to break down, typically requiring temperatures higher than 400 °C. A team led by Zheng Huang at the Shanghai Institute of Organic Chemistry in China and Zhibin Guan at the University of California, Irvine, used low-cost and widely available reagents called light alkanes, along with key catalysts, to convert polyethylene into oils and waxes. The team broke down various forms of the plastic into oil at 175 °C within 4 days, at efficiencies ranging from 51% to 86%.

The team also used their process to convert 57–72% of everyday plastic waste such as bottles and bags into oils.

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