A triple-win solution to biowaste, fossil-based plastic and carbon utilisaiton

We evaluate the high potential of PEF produced from industrial carbon dioxide emissions and non-food derived biomass which is an alternative to its counterpart PET.

Plastic problems are very closely to our daily life. Approximately 8 million pieces of plastic pollution are on their way into our oceans every day. A million plastic bottles are bought around the world every minute and the number will increase another 20% by 2021. The trend is still keeping rising, and we may see more plastic than fish in the ocean someday. It is necessary to know how we can reduce the negative environmental impact of the plastic when we keep the advantage for further use.

Photo source by Boris Ngounou

At the very beginning of our research, we target to conduct a comprehensive analysis on producing PEF bottle to replace current PET type since PEF is chemically similar to PET, but consists of 100% renewable raw materials. After that, the main concern is to find the suitable pathway for PEF production which is hard to decide due to various available approaches. One inspiration comes from a discussion with Dr Andrew Smallbone and Prof. Tony Roskilly. It is noted that the research should be conducted based on the CCS project. Thus industrial CO2 is better to be utilised and biowaste could be considered as a resource since it will not compete with food sector. It tends to be a triple-win solution to topics of carbon capture and utilisation, biowaste utilisation, and plastic synthesis.

 One remarkable fact is that PEF has not yet been established at a commercial scale due to its lengthy and energy intensive production process. Thus we shed light on the performance of new PEF production pathway in terms of energy consumption, environmental impact and production cost. In order to be close to commercialization, the new pathway is composed of four steps, in which the first two steps are well-established processes existed for decades. Besides, the comprehensive analysis is based on an industrial scale. By using approaches of mass and energy balance, life cycle assessment and payback period, we evaluated some concerns e.g. how much GHG emissions of new PEF production pathway are emitted from life-cycle perspective, what is the suitable mass of PEF bottle.

Our main contribution is the proposed pathway not only offers a viable solution to reuse biowaste within an industrial zone but also employs local GHG emissions which will reduce overall carbon foot print. In the future, we expect the incorporate more renewable energy like solar energy or carbon capture technology into current CHP system. Thus more potentials of this novel pathway could be explored.

The full article, PEF plastic synthesized from industrial carbon dioxide and biowaste, is accessible via https://www.nature.com/articles/s41893-020-0549-y


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