‘Black plastic can be recycled to create carbon nanotubes’

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SWANSEA: Plastic used in food packaging can be recycled to create new materials like wires for electricity that could help to reduce the amount of plastic waste in the future, according to a research published in The Journal for Carbon Research, conducted by Swansea University.

The research is based on chemical recycling, which uses the basic elements of the plastic to make new materials. According to the research, plastics are pure and refined chemicals that comprise of carbon and hydrogen and can be broken down into these elements and utilised to make high value materials such as carbon nanotubes.

The research team particularly focused on black plastic which are easily available but are hard to recycle. Researchers removed the carbon and constructed nanotube molecules from the bottom up using the carbon atoms and used the nanotubes to transmit electricity to a light bulb in a small demonstrator model.

Dr Alvin Orbaek White, a Sêr Cymru II fellow at the Energy Safety Research Institute (ESRI), said, “Nanotubes can be used to make a huge range of things, such as conductive films for touchscreen displays, flexible electronics fabrics that create energy, antennas for 5G networks while NASA has used them to prevent electric shocks on the Juno spacecraft.”

The research team is currently planning to make high purity carbon electrical cables using waste plastic and to recover the nanotube material’s electrical performance and intensify the output, so they will be ready for large-scale deployment in the next three years.

According to White, carbon nanotubes can resolve the issue of electricity cables being overheated and failing, which is accountable for about eight per cent of electricity lost in transmission and distribution globally.

“This may not seem like much, but it is low because electricity cables are short, which means that power stations have to be close to the location where electricity is used, otherwise the energy is lost in transmission,” added White. 

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