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Solar reactor converts both CO2 and plastic waste into ‘useful products’

  • Category
    Science & Technology
  • Published
    13th Jan, 2023


Researchers from Cambridge university has found a way to turn PET plastic bottles and carbon dioxide into sustainable fuels like CO, syngas or formate other valuable products, using just the energy from the sun.


About the Solar reactor

  • Compartments: The device is made up of two separate compartments – one for plastic and one for CO2.
  • Energy absorption: There is a unit in each compartment that absorbs energy from light and uses it to trigger a catalyst that converts the feedstock into something more useful.
    • The light absorber is perovskite, which is emerging as a promising material for solar cells, while the catalyst can be changed depending on the desired final product.

End products:

  • In tests:
    • CO2 was converted into syngas, a key building block for sustainable liquid fuels
    • Plastic bottles were converted into glycolic acid, which is widely used in the cosmetics industry
  • Tests of the reactor under normal temperature and pressure conditions showed the reactor could efficiently convert polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic bottles and CO2 into different carbon-based fuels such as CO, syngas or formate, in addition to glycolic acid.
  • The reactor produced these products at a rate that is also much higher than conventional photo-catalytic CO2 reduction processes.

What is the need?

  • Greenhouse gases and plastic waste are two of the biggest environmental problems the world faces today. 
    • Atmospheric carbon dioxide is at its highest levels in millennia, leading to devastating climate consequences.
    • Reliance on plastic is causing a huge buildup of the stuffin rivers, oceans and everywhere from pole to pole.

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