Chemist Achyut Kumar Panda of Centurion University of Technology and Management in Odisha and chemical engineer Raghubansh Kumar Singh of the National Institute of Technology, Odisha are the brains behind this finding. They have developed a relatively low-temperature process to convert common polymer, low-density polyethylene (LDPE) into liquid fuel.
Common polymer is used to make container, medical and laboratory equipment, computer components and plastic bags. The duo heat up the plastic waste to between 400 and 500 degrees celsius over a kaolin catalyst (a clay mineral containing aluminum and silicon).
"We used an analytical method called gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS) to characterise these product molecules and found the components of their liquid fuel to be mainly paraffins and olefins 10 to 16 carbon atoms long," explained Panda, as spoken to AP. This makes the liquid fuel very similar chemically to conventional petrochemical fuels, he added.
Kaolin acts as a catalyst by providing a large reactive surface on which the polymer molecules can sit and so be exposed to high temperature inside the batch reactor, which breaks them apart.
"We could boost the yield to almost 80% and minimise reaction times in further tests," said Singh.
The researchers have published the full details of their finding in the International Journal of Environment and Waste Management.
Since long, researchers in various parts of the world have been trying to get rid of plastic wastes by converting it into something useful. Many have partially succeeded in this effort.