to connectVideoScientists discover new ways to use waste plastic to eliminate the possibility
The scientists of Colorado’s laboratory for the development of a mutated enzyme, which rapidly breaks down both plastic and a lightweight plastic composite that is stronger and easier to recycle; Alicia Acuna has the details.
The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) scientist Gregg Beckham, is an avid scuba diver. So, he will see that the problem of plastic in the oceans of the world first-hand.
“I’ve been a few places, quite often for the last 15 years or so,” he said, “and that the prevalence of the synthetics that I’ve observed anecdotally in the ocean, and it is sure to increase, at least in the places I frequent.”
Beckham’s grief over the situation, it is turned into a drive to make a difference. “It’s something that, as a scientist and engineer, I am highly motivated to work in order to see if we can come up with solutions to solve this problem.”
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The problem is big, according to Nick Mallos, Director of The Ocean Conservancy’s Trash Free Seas Program. Said Mallos: We know that 8 million tons of plastic enters the ocean each year. In order to put this in perspective, this is about a New York City dump truck filled with plastic and empty out into the ocean, every single minute of every single day for an entire year.”
In an effort to help him, Beckham and his team have been trying to find ways to keep waste from PET plastic, the kind used in water bottles, containers, fiberglass, and more valuable to recycle, so people have a reason to take it out of landfills and waterways in the first place.
“You don’t have a lot of aluminum cans in the ocean, because it is a great way to recycle aluminium,” says NREL Director is Martin Keller. “It is a well-established and well-developed. Therefore, we must have the same type of recycling method for a plastic container.”
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A major breakthrough came as something of a surprise, as Beckham and colleagues worked with researchers in London. The study of the structure of an enzyme inside a bacterium that’s found in the food from the plastic to the outside of a bottle-recycling plant in China.
“We thought We were going to make the enzyme in even worse and, therefore, to understand how it has evolved to break down plastic,” Beckham explained. “We have actually, by accident, the better, so that was very exciting.”
The nature of the enzyme, it takes centuries to degrade PET plastic. Beckham said mutant enzyme, and now it’s doing it’s job for a number of weeks, not months, “And we are trying to make it to where we can really get down to it, that will be really exciting.”
A second breakthrough involves the taking of a land-use plastic bottles and mixing them with an organic, biodegradable substance that is found in plants. “If we can combine them in a very specific way, we can have a completely new type of plastic that seems to be a composite.”
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This is the same type of composite material is added to the fiber to make things like surfboards, snowboards, car parts and wind turbine blades.
Nick Rorrer, it is a post-doctoral researcher at NREL, who has been involved in the investigation. “One of the great things about the work we do,” he said, “is that we believe that we can, as we are both PET bottles as well as the things that you’ve got biomass, you actually get better features than what you would get with the typical types of crude oil, recipes for their manufacture.”
The result is something that is not only more powerful than the current oil-based materials, but are lighter as well.
Hope-Beckham, said, ” it is that scientific breakthroughs, such as the plastic to create a lot of chances to be re-used.
Mallos said that the research has been exciting to watch. “It’s hard to find materials, or new ways to break down plastics, and recycled plastics, it is definitely a piece of the puzzle.” However, he warned that “it is very important that we don’t have to be a lot of weight in a single solution. We are in need of a comprehensive approach to the solution of this problem in the world.”
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“It’s part of a two-part solution to overcome this problem,” Beckham agreed. “As a part of the solution must be to reduce, in particular, some of the plastics used all over the world, as well as on top of that, both the government and the business community to come together in order to provide incentives, instead of to recover it out of plastic waste.
NREL plans to set up a pilot program in a few years, which will break a ton of PET plastic every single day. The product is to be used for the turbine blades at the National Wind Technology Center.