Scientists at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore (NTU Singapore) have developed a new method of converting plastic waste into hydrogen based on pyrolysis, a high-temperature chemical process.
Unlike PET plastic bottles which can be recycled easily, plastic waste containing contaminated food packaging, polystyrene and plastic bags, are difficult to recycle and are currently incinerated or buried in landfills, resulting in pollution of water and soil.
Using the new method, NTU scientists are now able to convert plastic waste into two main products, hydrogen and a form of solid carbon known as carbon nanotubes – a highly valuable material used in biomedical and industrial applications. Hydrogen is useful for generating electricity and powering fuel cells like those found in electric vehicles, with clean water as the only byproduct.
The development of these hydrogen technologies is part of Singapore’s plan to explore hydrogen technologies in its drive to diversify energy sources, as they could replace fossil fuels such as natural gas while reducing the nation’s carbon footprint.
This waste-to-hydrogen research project used marine litter collected from local waters in collaboration with Ocean Purpose Project, a non-governmental organization and social enterprise. Together with industry partner Bluefield Renewable Energy, the joint project demonstrates the potential to upcycle all non-recyclable plastics into high-value fuels and materials.
Scaling this technology to an industrial scale will be a big step for Singapore, unlocking an alternative source of clean energy while achieving its first zero waste master plan. The nation is currently seeking to reduce the waste disposed of at the Semakau landfill by 30% by 2030, which will help extend the life of the landfill beyond 2035.
About Singapore’s Zero Waste Master Plan
Singapore’s inaugural Zero Waste Master Plan outlines Singapore’s key strategies for building a sustainable, resource-efficient and climate-resilient nation. This includes adopting a circular economy approach to waste and resource management practices and transitioning to more sustainable production and consumption.
Over the past 40 years, the amount of waste disposed of in Singapore has increased sevenfold. At this rate, Semakau Landfill, Singapore’s only landfill, will run out of space by 2035. There is little land to build new incineration plants or landfills in Singapore.
In addition, the incineration of waste, although efficient and avoids land and marine contamination problems, generates carbon emissions, which contribute to climate change. The master plan has set a new waste reduction target for Singapore – to reduce the waste sent to the Semakau landfill each day by 30% by 2030 – which will help extend the life of the Semakau landfill beyond beyond 2035.
Additionally, as Singapore, like other parts of the world, battles climate change and increased waste, the nation is investing in R&D and collaborating with industry experts to develop new, more efficient and environmentally friendly ways. of the environment to support the circular economy approach by recovering resources from waste.
This includes using microbes to convert food waste into compost and even turning cremated ashes into building materials – two of the many possible ways to close our waste and resource loops through recycling or reuse.
These innovations were born because we experimented with cutting-edge science and technology for more sustainable solutions.
For example, R&D enabled the creation of Semakau Landfill, the first offshore landfill of its kind in the world, and Tuas Nexus – the first co-located waste-to-energy plant with a water treatment facility to take advantage of synergies.
Singapore will maintain an emphasis on R&D to develop and improve new technologies, products or systems that can be used and possibly shared with others. In the coming years, the region hopes to pioneer transformative ways to enable Singapore to maximize the use of resources.