The export of unprocessed single resin/polymer plastics will be banned from July 1, 2022, under new Australian laws designed to phase out export of waste plastics, paper, glass and tyres.
Australia’s national recycling target is for 70% of the country’s plastic packaging to be recycled or composted by 2025, but a recent report found just 9.4% of plastic was recycled in 2017-2018.
Recycling and clean energy is one of six national priorities in the Federal Government's Modern Manufacturing Strategy.
The new plastic upcycling approach offers a sustainable alternative for the production of carbon nanotubes (CNTs).
These hollow, cylindrical structures have exceptional electronic and mechanical properties, with applications across a broad range of sectors including hydrogen storage, composite materials, electronics, fuel cells and biomedical technologies.
Carbon nanotubes are in growing demand, particularly in aerospace and defence, where they can facilitate the design of lightweight parts. The global market for CNTs has been projected to reach $5.8 billion by 2027.
Turning old into new
The new method starts with converting agricultural or organic waste to biochar – a carbon-rich form of charcoal often used for improving soil health.
The biochar is used to eliminate toxic contaminants – such as Poly-cyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons, known as PAHs - as the waste plastic is broken down into its components of gas and oil.
The process eliminates those contaminants and convert plastics into high-quality liquid fuel.
At the same time, the carbon in the plastic is converted into carbon nanotubes, which coat the biochar.
These nanotubes can be exfoliated for use by various industries or the nano-enhanced biochar can be used directly for environmental remediation and boosting agricultural soils.