A catalytic chemical process can digest plastics into a substance that can make new products.
IBM Researches have developed a new plastics recycling process they’ve called VolCat recycling. This recycling method uses a catalytic chemical process that digests plastics into a substance that can be fed directly back into a plastic manufacturing machine to create new products.
The complete plastic recycling technique is an energy-efficient cycle.
The VolCat recycling process collects plastic bottles, containers and PET-based fabrics. It grinds up these plastic materials and combines them with a chemical catalyst in a pressure cooker that is set to a temperature above 200 degrees Celsius.
The PET and ethylene glycol are heated together in a reactor with the catalyst. Once depolymerization is complete, using the heat of reaction, the catalyst is recovered by distillation from the reactor.
The resulting solution is filtered, purified, and cooled. This leads to the creation of a solid monomer product, which is recovered via filtration. The recovered liquid and catalyst are introduced into the depolymerization reactor in an energy-efficient cycle.
With a small amount of pressure and heat, the catalyst goes to work digesting and cleaning the ground-up plastic. This process allows for the separation of contaminants like glue, dyes, dirt, pigments and food from the plastic materials that can be used for producing new PET. This monomer (the resulting useable matter) is in the form of a white powder. This powder is fed directly into a polyester reactor and made into brand new plastics.
The VolCat recycling process can help revolutionize the future recycling of plastics.
Unlike conventional mechanical recycling, future plastics recycling methods, such as the VolCat recycling process, will be able to produce a high-quality product at the end of the process that is 100% recyclable. The reason is that it can recycle plastics with greater efficiency and with more versatility by being able to treat more material types, including colored, clear, dirty and clean containers, that current recycling processes are unable to reprocess.
IBM believes that in the next half decade, VolCat recycling technology could be adopted around the world to combat plastic waste worldwide.