Researchers propose turning PPE waste into liquid fuel to curb plastic pollution amid pandemic and save nature

These renewable liquid fuels are as good as fossil fuels in performance and provide a source of energy


                            Researchers propose turning PPE waste into liquid fuel to curb plastic pollution amid pandemic and save nature
(Getty Images)

Researchers have proposed a solution to address the excessive personal protective equipment (PPE) that is piling up due to the pandemic. These wastes can find a new purpose by converting them into liquid fuels which are as good as fossil fuels in performance.

"The biocrude obtained from plastics decreases the problem associated with their accumulation. By converting the plastic to fuel, we may decrease the pollution and can some additional fuel for various applications," researchers from India's University of Petroleum and Energy Studies, tell MEA WorldWide (MEAWW)

The pandemic has resulted in an increased demand for plastics. For instance, it has forced frontline workers and others to rely on PPE. Further, fearing that reusable bags increase the risk of infection, some people are taking to single-use plastic bags, leading to a spike. The coronavirus crisis has led to some relaxations on regulations meant to curb pollution. The current study focuses on reusing plastics present in PPE. "Presently, the world is focusing to combat Covid-19. However, we can foresee the issues of economic crisis and ecological imbalance also," Dr Sapna Jain, the lead author of the study, says. "We have to prepare ourselves to meet the challenges which are forcefully imposed by the Covid-19 pandemic, so as to maintain sustainability."

According to the United Nations, 79% of the world's plastics end up in landfills, dumps, or the natural environment (Getty Images)

 

The material used to make PPE is non-woven polypropylene. The low-cost polymer is also used to produce potato chip bags, microwave dishes, ice cream tubs and bottle caps. According to the United Nations, 79% of the world's plastics end up in landfills, dumps or the natural environment. Of the remaining, about 9% are recycled and 12% burnt. These wastes also clog our oceans and marine organisms unwittingly consume them. As a result, they could make their way into the food chain.

The PPE is designed for single-use, following which it is disposed of into the environment. Plastics take decades to decompose, leading to a scourge of pollution. Recycling and reusing them are the only solutions. So Dr Jain and her team looked at previous studies on polypropylene and its damaging effects. They also looked at the different ways of turning them into liquid fuel. Their analysis showed that a chemical method, pyrolysis, is better suited to make liquid fuels from PPE. The process involved subjecting these wastes to high-temperatures between 300-400 degrees centigrade for an hour in the absence of oxygen.

"Pyrolysis is the most commonly used chemical method whose benefits include the ability to produce high quantities of bio-oil, which is easily biodegradable," co-author Dr Bhawna Yadav Lamba says, adding that the process is sustainable. "There is always a need for alternative fuels or energy resources to meet our energy demands. The pyrolysis of plastics is one of the methods to mitigate our energy crisis." She adds: "The liquid fuel produced from plastics is clean and has fuel properties similar to fossil fuels." There is one issue. Collecting PPE from different medical sites, as it is infected with the deadly coronavirus, can be a challenge, say researchers.

The study is published in Biofuels.

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