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From trash to treasure: plastic bags to high-tech nanomaterial

From trash to treasure: plastic bags to high-tech nanomaterial
Researchers have developed a process of transforming plastic grocery bags into high-tech nanomaterial.

Researchers from the University of Adelaide have developed a process of turning waste non-biodegradable plastic bags into high-tech nanomaterial.

The process that the researchers have developed makes use of non-biodegradable plastic grocery bags to create “carbon nanotube membranes,” which are highly sophisticated and expensive materials with a variety of potential advanced applications including filtration, sensing, energy storage, and a range of biomedical innovations.

“Non-biodegradable plastic bags are a serious menace to natural ecosystems and present a problem in terms of disposal, said Professor Dusan Losic, ARC Future Fellow and Research Professor of Nanotechnology in the University of Adelaide’s School of Chemical Engineering.

“Transforming these waste materials through ‘nanotechnological recycling’ provides a potential solution for minimizing environmental pollution at the same time as producing high-added value products,” he added.

The researchers were able to turn plastic into nanomaterial by having “grown” carbon nanotubes onto nanoporous alumina membranes. They used pieces of grocery plastic bags, which were vaporized in a furnace, to produce carbon layers that line the pores in the membrane to make the tiny cylinders – the carbon nanotubes.

“Initially, we used ethanol to produce the carbon nanotubes. But my students had the idea that any carbon source should be useable,” Professor Losic explained.

The huge potential market for carbon nanotubes depends on them being produced in high quantities more cheaply and uniformly.

“In our laboratory, we’ve developed a new and simplified method of fabrication with controllable dimensions and shapes, and using a waste produce as the carbon source,” noted Professor Losic.

Additional benefits to recycling these plastic grocery bags with their process is that it is catalyst and solvent free, which means the plastic waste can be used without generating poisonous compounds. – EcoSeed Staff

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