Scientists have discovered a novel new way of using microwaves to turn orange peels and other plant-based waste into plastic.
Plastic waste makes for one of the worst forms of trash because it takes so long to degrade, thus overflowing our landfills and polluting our oceans and waterways. But what if we could make plastic from a recycled, natural, biodegradable source?
That's the idea behind a novel new technology developed by British scientists that uses microwaves to turn plant-based waste, such as orange peels, into an eco-friendly plastic, according to the Independent.
Researchers have already created a partnership with the juice-making industry in Brazil, and have launched the Orange Peel Exploitation Company, in order to demonstrate the technology on a large scale
"There are eight million tons of orange residue in Brazil. For every orange that's squeezed to make juice, about half of it is wasted," said James Clark, professor of green chemistry at the University of York and developer of the new approach. "What we've discovered is that you can release the chemical and energy potential of orange peel using microwaves."
The technique works by focusing high-powered microwaves on plant-based material, thus transforming the tough cellulose molecules of the plant matter into volatile gases. Those gases are then distilled into a liquid product which researchers say can be used to make plastic. The process works at 90 percent efficiency, and it can be used on a variety of different kinds of plant waste besides just orange peels.
Orange peels are particularly good for this technique, though, because they are rich with a key chemical called d-limonene, which is also an ingredient in many cleaning products and cosmetics.
"The unique feature of our microwave is that we work at deliberately low temperatures. We never go above 200C. You can take the limonene off or you can turn limonene into other chemicals," he said. "It works really well with waste paper. It can take a big range of bio-waste material," said Clark.