In an experiment conducted in a lab, the research team decided to mix plastics and catalysts in a solvent. This enables the solution to utilize the sunlight to convert the dissolved plastics into formic acids. The formic acids produced are then used to generate more electrical energy. The research team that’s located in Singapore manufacture their own catalyst by using biocompatible metal vanadium.

This material is highly affordable, and it’s usually used in aluminum alloys for aircraft and steel alloys for vehicles. The carbon-carbon bonds within the plastics are broken down in six days by dissolving the vanadium-based catalyst in a solution containing non-biodegradable plastic such as polyethylene. It will then be allowed to be exposed to direct sunlight.

In this process, formic acids, which is a type of antibacterial agent and naturally made preservatives, were produced from polyethylene. These acids may be used to generate more energy in hydrogen fuel cell vehicles as well as power plants. This research aims to develop cost-effective and sustainable techniques to utilize sunlight to manufacture fuels and other useful chemicals.

The latest chemical treatment that has been developed may be considered to be the first process ever recorded in history that managed to utilize sunlight and catalysts that don’t have any heavy metals to break down non-biodegradable plastics like polyethylene. A large percentage of the plastic waste in Singapore would usually be incinerated.

Consequently, this process produced more greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide, and the ashes are then sent to the landfill. The spaces of this landfill are expected to be depleted in 2035. Innovative solutions such as this one that converts waste into beneficial resources are the only way Singapore can ensure that its landfill problems can be resolved in the future.

A chemical reaction known as photocatalyst is driven by the vanadium-based catalyst supported by organic groups that use sunlight to trigger the reactions. Unlike the majority of the reactions performed in the industry that uses heat energy that is often produced by burning fossil fuels, photocatalyst, on the other hand, allows chemical reactions to be powered by clean sunlight.

The majority of the plastics waste that we have today is considered non-biodegradable as they have inert chemical bonds known as the carbon-carbon bond. It’s due to this particular bond that makes it difficult for it to be broken down without burning it directly. However, the latest vanadium-based compound developed by researchers has been specifically engineered to break these inert bonds.

This is done by latching onto the nearby chemical group known as the alcohol group and by utilizing the energy obtained from the sunlight to unravel all of the molecules, just like how you unzip your pants. By using this method, the research team proved that they could break down the carbon-carbon bonds up to 30 different types of compounds. Currently, the research team plans to further improve the process to enable the breakdown of plastics into other types of beneficial chemicals such as hydrogen gas to be used as fuels.

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