An Argonne National Laboratory scientist thinks he has developed a better way to recycle a ubiquitous scourge of the environment—the plastic bag.
New Scientist reports:
Waste plastic from “throwaway” carrier bags can be readily converted into carbon nanotubes. The chemist who developed the technique has even used the nanotubes to make lithium-ion batteries.
This is called “upcycling” – converting a waste product into something more valuable. Finding ways to upcycle waste could encourage more recycling…
The process isn’t cheap, however. It involves an expensive catalyst in cobalt acetate, which is not easily recovered, to convert the high or low-density polyethylene (HDPE and LDPE) into carbon nanotubes. But if the nanotubes are then used to make lithium-ion or lithium-air batteries, that might overcome this problem, since these batteries are already recycled at the end of their use to recover cobalt.
Getting the bags to a recycling facility in the first place may be a hurdle as well. As the picture above shows, asking the public to put forth any effort sometimes seems to be asking too much.
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Image: flickr / Sam Felder
This holiday season, Santa’s toy bag will again overflow with plastics. From Legos to Barbies to the Nintendo Wii, most toys today are made from non-degradable and non-renewable plastics derived from fossil fuels. Now a company is developing a bio-plastic that’s made from trees. Could ARBOFORM, or liquid wood, cure us of our plastic addiction?
Liquid wood is made mostly of lignin, one of the three major components of wood, the other two being cellulose and hemicellulose. Lignin is discarded during the paper-making process. A few years ago, researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Chemical Technology in Germany took the lignin and combined it with natural fibers like natural fibers made of wood, hemp, and flax and natural additives such as wax to produce plastic granules. The resulting material was tough, melt-able, and mold-able, and has already been used to make car parts, hunting rifles, and golf tees. But there was one major problem: It stunk from the sulfurous substances that are used to extract lignin from wood and make it non-water-soluble.