New Solar Tech Turns Waste into Fuel
A new process developed by a team of scientists at the University of Cambridge may be the key to overcoming two of our greatest environmental challenges.

Preserving a healthy and sustainable environment for our kids and grandkids requires more than just moving away from non-renewable energy sources.

We've also got to start producing less waste.

That's why waste-to-fuel processes are such a hot research topic in the sciences. They tackle both problems simultaneously.

Well, one group of researchers from the University of Cambridge has come up with a way to convert both carbon and plastic into fuel that's 100% powered by the sun.

The researchers built a solar-powered reactor that has two waste input streams—one for plastic and the other for carbon dioxide—that can also be set to output different types of fuel.

“Plastic pollution is a huge problem worldwide," notes Cambridge researcher Erwin Reisner. "Often, many of the plastics we throw into recycling bins are incinerated or end up in a landfill.”

In initial testing, the team's reactor successfully converted CO2 into a substance called "syngas" which plays a crucial role in producing sustainable liquid fuels. Plastic bottles were turned into glycolic acid, a common ingredient of skin care products.

“Developing a circular economy, where we make useful things from waste instead of throwing it into landfill, is vital if we’re going to meaningfully address the climate crisis and protect the natural world. And powering these solutions using the sun means that we’re doing it cleanly and sustainably.”— Cambridge University Professor, Erwin Reisner, professor.

The researchers say that changing what the reactor produces is a simple matter of switching the waste stream and the catalysts used to generate the required chemical processes.