When plastic waste is spattered with scraps of food, recycling it becomes impossible. But that could soon change after a group of scientists in the UK have discovered a way to use dirty plastic waste to produce hydrogen, which can heat homes and fuel cars without producing greenhouse gas emissions.
The process uses a glass kiln, heated to 1,000C, to instantly break down unrecyclable plastic to release a mix of gases including hydrogen. The technology will be used commercially for the first time at a plant near Ellesmere Port in Cheshire later this year after a pair of “waste-energy” companies agreed to invest. Peele Environmental, the owner of the plant, said the project could help keep 25 million tonnes of “contaminated” plastics, which cannot be recycled, from ending up in landfills or the ocean.
Still, many environmentalists claim the process of producing hydrogen will also lead to the creation of potent greenhouse gasses including methane. To combat this, the Cheshire project plans to trap the gases and pipe them into a power plant to generate electricity. This would not be any more polluting than the UK’s existing gas-fired power plants and would avoid the need to extract more gas from the ground.