Paper shows how to turn plastic landfill into fuel

Research led by chemist Zheng Huang at the Chinese Academy of Sciences has demonstrated a way to break down polyethylenes into a liquid fuels.

Published in Science Advances, the method uses a catalyst doped with iridium, which can break down polyethylenes at temperatures as low as 140 degrees Celsius.

However, there is a need to make the catalyst more efficient, as it currently works at a ratio of 1:30, and iridium is a precious metal.

“We think that the future potential is there — as long as we can improve the efficiency and reduce the cost of the iridium,” Huang told Gizmodo.

“Hopefully, very soon we can scale up the process from gram scale in the lab to kilogram and even ton scale.”

Polyethylenes are plastics that make up an estimated six-tenths of the world’s landfills, and are difficult to break down. An estimated 100 million tonnes are produced annually.

A study by the World Economic Forum predicts that total weight of plastics in the ocean could, by 2050, outweigh the total weight of fish.