June 13, 2024
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©Connie Zhou/IBM The concept of recycling could change substantially in the coming years. A prototype
©Connie Zhou/IBM

The concept of recycling could change substantially in the coming years. A prototype created by IBM makes it possible for the most difficult waste to be converted into reusable materials.

IBM is working on developing solutions to the plastic waste problem. They just invented a pressure reactor, called the VolCat.

First they tried fabric with different compositions. The machine separated the two materials; the cotton fibers balled up and the polyester was reduced to a powder.

For plastic, it was tested on hard objects, from bottles to containers, breaking them down into powder, giving the opportunity to make new plastic products.

VolCat is expected to eliminate all items that are difficult to recycle such as clothing, carpets, shoes, plastic containers, among others.

How does VolCat work?

©Connie Zhou/IBM

Plastic bottles, Pet-based fabrics and other containers were selected. They are fed into the volatile catalyst, crushed and combined with a chemical catalyst in a pressure cooker at over 200 degrees Celsius.

The device digests and cleans the ground plastic, separating contaminants such as dyes, pigments, glue and dirt. This allows the PET to be used again.

PET is an abbreviation for polyethylene terephthalate. This type of plastic is used to make containers for soft drink bottles, water bottles, salad dressing, cooking oil, shampoo, liquid hand soap, and take-out food containers. It is also present in carpets and sports shoes.

By heating PET with ethylene glycol and catalyst, lab workers depolymerize the plastic. After distillation, filtration, purification, and cooling, a usable material called monomer remains , which is a white powder.

Volcat requires more research for its massive use in the future. If it can be implemented commercially, it can achieve the following benefits:

  • Decreased need for virgin plastic.
  • Lower emission of greenhouse gases.

Although VolCat will be decisive in the new recycling processes, while it is not operational at a commercial level, it is necessary to implement measures to reduce waste. You can start by selecting products with sustainable packaging such as paper, glass and metal. If you are going to use plastic containers, try to reuse as much as possible, or choose those that incorporate less plastic.

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More information: research.ibm.com

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