Plastic bottles can be ‘upcycled’ to create materials strong enough to make car parts and wind turbine blades, experts say.
Single use containers can be transformed into more durable materials by reducing them to their chemical building blocks.
These blocks are then mixed with plant fibres and adding a hardening agent is added to complete the process.
The resulting fibre-reinforced plastics are two or three times more valuable than the plastic polyethylene terephthalate (PET) from which the bottles were originally made.
The new method could cut the energy needed to recycle PET – the most widely used plastic – by more than half, experts from the US Department of Renewable Energy claim.
Plastic bottles are broken down into their ‘monomers’ – chemical building blocks – which react with other molecules to form larger molecules or chains.
These monomers are then mixed with a liquid made from renewable sources, such as plant biomass.
The plant solution and the monomers react to form a stronger material, known as an unsaturated polyester.
This is then mixed with a reactive diluent, a chemical used to form a lacquer, which hardens the mixture and results in a fibreglass reinforced plastic.
‘The process we came up with is a way to “upcycle” PET into long-lifetime, high-value composite materials like those that would be used in car parts, wind turbine blades, surfboards, or snowboards,’ said Doctor Greg Beckham, the senior author of the study.