Plastic recycling is a key environmental issue. According to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), more than 400 million tons of plastic are produced each year in the world, 85% of which ends up in landfills or dumped in nature where it takes hundreds of years to decompose. But what if, in the future, this plastic waste could be used to produce hydrogen and glycolic acid?

Today, plastic can be transformed into a multitude of products, including paints and solvents. It is even possible to recycle plastic into gasoline by incorporating certain additives. However, turning it into hydrogen could represent a cleaner alternative for the environment.

Solar-driven conversion of CO2 and plastics into value-added products

A team of researchers at the UK’s University of Cambridge [1] is working on a process that can convert not only plastic, but also CO2, into two chemical products: syngas, a source of hydrogen, and glycolic acid, which is widely used in the cosmetics industry.

This technique consists of integrating catalysts that accelerate a chemical reaction into a system powered by solar energy. In fact, the chemical reaction is produced thanks to this exposure.

Ultimately, this technology could reduce plastic waste and CO2 emissions, while producing two valuable chemical products. The next step is to move from a laboratory experiment to full-scale production by exploring ways to commercialize this process.

The researchers’ findings are published in the journal, Nature.