Scientists from Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden have developed a process for recycling plastics at high quality.
Taking the established process of steam cracking of plastics, the researchers have experimented to make the process more efficient to enable creation of recycled plastics of virgin quality.
The new technology created by the team is designed to replicate the process used to manufacture plastics in the first place, where a cracker in a petrochemical facility creates the building blocks of simple molecules that are then used to create a variety of different types of plastics.
Effectively, the Chalmers research means that the technological process they have developed could be integrated into existing petrochemical plants to create recycling refineries.
Chalmers professor of energy technology Henrik Thunman said: “We should not forget that plastic is a fantastic material. It gives us products that we could otherwise only dream of.
“The problem is that it is manufactured at such low cost, that it has been cheaper to produce new plastics from oil and fossil gas than from reusing plastic waste.
“Through finding the right temperature – which is around 850 degrees celcius – and the right heating rate and residence time, we have been able to demonstrate the proposed method at a scale where we turn 200kg of plastic waste an hour into a useful gas mixture. That can then be recycled at the molecular level to become materials of virgin quality.”
The next phase of the research will be to take it from a demonstrator project to a process that can handle hundreds of tonnes per day to make it commercially viable.
Potentially, the technology could also use end-of-life bio materials like paper, wood and textiles to create new virgin-quality plastics.