Residue from a recycling plant showing mixed waste including plastic, glass, metal and other contaminants. Professor Abbas says this is an example of a difficult waste stream to work with. Credit: Professor Ali Abbas, University of Sydney
Professor Ali Abbasfrom theSchool of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineeringis an expert in the circular economy aneconomicsystem aimed at eliminating waste and the continual use of resourcesand the conversion of plastic materials.
A key priority for all levels of government today is reducing plastic waste. A significant move towards addressing the challenge of plastic waste and waste in general was recently made by introduction of the circular economy policy in NSW," said Professor Abbas.
This policy aims to facilitate as much recycling as possible, as well as minimise waste.
Although we have done a great job in Australia on recycling, to realise the full potential of the circular economy, we need to measure the recycling potential of individual products and track their pathways and reuse in the economy," said Professor Abbas.
We also need to expand technology beyond traditional recycling methods, as some recycling processes cannot efficiently deal with difficult wastes and may in fact be harmful to the environment, all the while remembering that reuse, repurposing and remanufacturing are also important.
A system-wide analysis of plastic waste should be conducted. It could evaluate the role sustainable technologies, like chemical recycling and energy recovery (waste-to-energy), play in plastic value chains," said Professor Abbas.
Waste-to-energy recovers energy from non-recyclable plastic and other materials that otherwise would end up in landfill. This is a mature technology and is safely applied around the world, particularly in places where environmental monitoring and regulation can be implemented stringently.
Chemical recycling changes plastics back to fundamental chemical building blocks, which can then be used to make new plastic products, effectively displacing the need for raw resources.
Professor Thomas Maschmeyerfrom theSchool of Chemistryand theSydney Nano Institutehas commercialised, with his start-up,Licella,a new industrial process, Catalytic Hydrothermal Upgrading (Cat-HTR), that chemically recycles waste plastics to turn them into new products.
"Plastic waste is a serious environmental issue, but also presents a great resource opportunity," said Professor Maschmeyer.
"The water-based Cat-HTR process that I co-invented through my start-up,Licella,converts plastics into liquid (oil) and gas with a world-record 98 percent efficiency.
"The oil can be refined to new products, including chemicals, plastics and fuels, while the gas is used to run the conversion plant itself. This means no external energy input is needed other than electricity to run control systems and the waste feed system.Currently, large-scale commercialisation projects are underway in the UK and continental Europe.
This technology will unlock the chemical recycling of plastics in an unprecedented way.
We are also hoping to introduce the technology commercially into Australia where it was created, after all and we are currently looking at sites where we can get the licenses to operate.
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