Plastic Waste Could Fuel Cars of the Future

Plastic Waste Could Fuel Cars of the Future

Discarded plastic could be used as fuel for cars following a scientific breakthrough that converts it into the chemical hydrogen.

Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles create electricity to power the battery and motor by mixing hydrogen and oxygen, which are then chemically fused.

The only byproduct is water, making the technology one of the quietest and most environmentally friendly available.

The new system can even convert plastic that's contaminated with food waste and other dirt that normally means it can't be recycled.

The groundbreaking process has been developed by scientists at Swansea University, who say it could also be a cheaper alternative to recycling as the plastic does not need to be cleaned first.

Dr Moritz Kuehnel, from the university's chemistry department, said: 'There's a lot of plastic used every year – billions of tonnes – and only a fraction of it is being recycled. We are trying to find a use for what is not being recycled.

'The beauty of this process is that it's not very picky. It can degrade all sorts of waste.

'Even if there is food or a bit of grease from a margarine tub, it doesn't stop the reaction, it makes it better.

'The process produces hydrogen gas. You can see bubbles coming off the surface. You can use it, for example, to fuel a hydrogen car.'

Light-absorbing material is added to the discarded plastic before it is placed in an alkaline solution and exposed to sunlight, which creates hydrogen.

But it may take years before the plastic-to-fuel process can be rolled out on an industrial level.

The work, funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council and an Austrian petrochemical company, has also shown how the remains of the plastic could be recycled to make new plastic.

Recent research has suggested hydrogen fuel cell cars could one day challenge electric cars in the race for pollution-free roads - but only if more stations are built to fuel them.

Honda, Toyota and Hyundai have leased a few hundred fuel cell vehicles over the past three years, and expect to lease well over 1,000 this year.

But for now, those leases are limited to California, which is home to most of the 34 public hydrogen fuelling stations in the U.S.

Undaunted, automakers are investing heavily in the technology.

According to Information Trends, there were 6,475 FCV's worldwide at the end of 2017.

More than half were registered in California, which puts the U.S. (53 per cent) at the forefront for FCV adoption.

Japan takes second place with 38 per cent, while Europe is at nine per cent.

General Motors recently supplied the U.S. Army with a fuel cell pickup, and GM and Honda are collaborating on a fuel cell system due out by 2020.

Hyundai will introduce a longer-range fuel cell SUV next year.

HOW DO HYDROGEN FUEL CELL POWERED CARS WORK?

Hydrogen fuel cell cars create electricity to power the battery and motor by mixing hydrogen and oxygen in specially treated plates, which are combined to form the fuel cell stack.

Fuel cell stacks and batteries have allowed engineers to significantly shrink these components to fit neatly inside a family car.

Oxygen is collected from the air through the grille, and hydrogen is stored in aluminium-lined fuel tanks, which automatically seal in an accident to prevent leaks.

These ingredients are fused, releasing usable electricity and water as byproducts and making the technology one of the quietest and most environmentally friendly available.

Reducing the amount of platinum used in the stack has made fuel cell cars less expensive, but the use of the rare metal has restricted the spread of their use.

Recent research has suggested hydrogen fuel cell cars could one day challenge electric cars in the race for pollution-free roads, however - but only if more stations are built to fuel them.

Fuel cell cars can be refueled as quickly as gasoline-powered cars and can also travel further between fill-ups.

Fuelling stations cost up to £1.5 million ($2 million) to build, so companies have been reluctant to build them unless more fuel cell cars are on the road.

The U.S. Department of Energy lists just 34 public hydrogen fuelling stations in the country; all but three are in California.

According to Information Trends, there were 6,475 FCV's worldwide at the end of 2017.

More than half were registered in California, which puts the U.S. (53 per cent) at the forefront for FCV adoption.

Japan takes second place with 38 per cent, while Europe is at nine per cent.

Source: The Daily Mail