One of the unnoticed aftermath of the pandemic is the increasing generated waste from thrown away personal protective equipment (PPEs). But a study from University of Petroleum and Energy Studies in India has found a use for plastics from disposable PPE. Their suggestion: turn the plastics into renewable liquid fuels.
Lead author of the study, Dr. Sapna Jain, mentioned that the Indian study aims to address the growing volume of PPE supply necessary during this health crisis. More plastics are being used to manufacture PPEs due to high demand. “The world is focusing to combat COVID-19, however, we can foresee the issues of economic crisis and ecological imbalance also,” Jain said. She added it is important to be prepared in the challenges of the pandemic. Such would include high amount of generated waste from PPEs.
The researchers explained: “Once these plastic materials are discharged into environment, they end up in the landfills or oceans as their natural degradation is difficult at ambient temperature. They need decades to get decomposed by the microbial organism.”
#ExpressExplained | The research describes a strategy for converting billions of items of disposable PPE from its plastic state into biofuels
The study tackled the method of transforming disposable PPEs from plastic forms into biofuel. With this strategy, not only can it reduce the environmental impact of disposed plastics, it could also be an alternative energy source.
Therefore, an alternative is to make biocrude, a synthetic fuel, out of these wastes. The authors wrote that polypropylene is highly used in PPE manufacture. It is a single-use non-woven material. This can be recycled to renewable energy as liquid fuel.
The study mentioned the method of conversion would include physical and chemical methods. Chemical conversion would involve thermal cracking of hydrocarbon chains in the polypropylene through pyrolysis. Polymer chains would be broken down in elevated temperatures.
Per the study, it said pyrolysis “involves thermal degradation of long-chain polymer molecules into simple, smaller molecules. Pyrolysis does not require prior separation of different types of waste plastics, thus a mixture of plastics can also be converted into liquid fuel.”
According to Jain, the process involved for converting plastic into biofuel is relatively simple and is well-established. Co-author Dr. Bhawna Yadav Lamba echoed it by remarking that the process is most sustainable especially when compared to incineration and landfill. Among the pyrolysis’ benefits is its high yield of biodegradable fuel.
The study was published in the Biofuels journal by the Taylor & Francis Group.