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NTU Develops Tech to Turn Plastic Trash into Fuel

Image Credits: NTU, Press Release

Scientists from Nanyang Technological University, Singapore (NTU Singapore) have developed a new method for plastic waste to be converted into hydrogen based on pyrolysis, a high-temperature chemical process.

Unlike PET plastic bottles which can be recycled easily, plastic litter containing contaminated food packaging, styrofoam and plastic bags, is challenging to recycle and is currently incinerated or buried in landfills, leading to both water and ground pollution.

Using the new method, NTU scientists are now able to convert plastic litter into two main products, hydrogen and a form of solid carbon known as carbon nanotubes – a high-value material used in biomedical and industrial applications. Hydrogen is useful for generating electricity and powering fuel cells like those found in electric vehicles, with clean water as its only by-product.

Developing such hydrogen technologies is part of Singapore’s plan to explore hydrogen technologies in its push to diversify energy sources, as it could replace fossil fuels such as natural gas while lowering the carbon footprint of the nation.

This waste-to-hydrogen research project used marine litter collected from local waters in collaboration with the Ocean Purpose Project, a non-governmental organisation and social enterprise. Together with industrial partner Bluefield Renewable Energy, the joint project demonstrates the potential for all non-recyclable plastics to be upcycled into fuels and high-value materials.

Scaling up this technology to the industrial scale will be a big step forward for Singapore, opening up an alternative clean energy source while it carries out its inaugural Zero Waste Masterplan. The nation is currently seeking to reduce the waste being disposed of at Semakau Landfill by 30 per cent by 2030, which will help to extend the landfill’s lifespan beyond 2035.

About Singapore’s Zero Waste Masterplan

Singapore’s inaugural Zero Waste Masterplan charts out Singapore’s key strategies to build a sustainable, resource-efficient and climate-resilient nation. This includes adopting a circular economy approach to waste and resource management practices and shifting towards more sustainable production and consumption.

In the last 40 years, the amount of waste disposed of in Singapore has increased seven-fold. At this rate, Semakau Landfill, Singapore’s only landfill, will run out of space by 2035. There is limited land for building new incineration plants or landfills in Singapore.

Moreover, the incineration of waste, while efficient and avoiding the problems of land and marine contamination, generates carbon emissions, which contribute to climate change. The Masterplan has set a new waste reduction target for Singapore – to reduce the waste sent to Semakau Landfill each day by 30 per cent by 2030 – which will help to extend Semakau Landfill’s lifespan beyond 2035.

In addition, like Singapore, like other regions across the globe, battles climate change and increasing waste, the nation is investing in R&D and collaborating with industry experts to develop new, more efficient and eco-friendly ways to support the circular economy approach by recovering resources from waste.

This includes using microbes to convert food waste into compost and even turning incineration ash into construction materials – just two of the many possible ways to close our waste and resource loops through recycling or reuse.

These innovations came about because we have been experimenting with cutting-edge science and technology for more sustainable solutions.

For instance, R&D enabled the creation of Semakau Landfill, the first offshore landfill of its kind in the world, and Tuas Nexus – the first Waste-to-Energy incineration plant co-located with a water treatment facility to reap synergies.

Singapore will sustain a focus on R&D to develop and enhance new technologies, products or systems that can be used and eventually shared with others. In the coming years, the region hopes to pioneer transformative ways to enable Singapore to maximise resource use.

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