Technological watch

Scientists Convert Discarded PET into Porous Carbon for CO2 Capture

In a recent study, scientists demonstrated an environmentally and economically feasible approach to converting discarded PET plastic into porous carbon for CO2 capture process at the industrial scale. Their findings pave the way for sustainable plastic waste upcycling alongside climate change mitigation.
An international team of researchers led by Prof. Yong Sik Ok and Dr. Xiangzhou Yuan of Korea University sought to determine if PET-derived porous carbon can truly be feasible in sustainable large-scale CCS systems from practical, environmental, and economic standpoints. “The primary steps in establishing an emerging technology involve the synthesis and simulation of its processes outside the laboratory in order to justify its improved sustainability and cost-effectiveness over more established techniques,” explains Dr. Yuan.
Three Main Objectives
The team went after three main objectives: evaluating the performance of different PET-derived porous carbon materials at the lab-scale, determining if such materials could be useful in economically sustainable industrial-scale processes, and quantifying the environmental impact of each approach.
The team first gathered discarded PET bottles and processed them in different ways to synthesize three types of porous carbon materials. Through lab-scale experiments, they analyzed the morphology, composition, and performance of these three materials to gather useful information for subsequent industrial-scale numerical simulations. For these simulations, the team modeled the entire process, from the grinding and transportation of PET bottles and the synthesis of porous carbon to the clean flue gas output, including secondary systems to produce electricity using waste heat.
Finally, they compared the environmental impact and economic viability of the synthesis pathways of the three PET-derived porous carbon materials to estimate the extent of climate change mitigation and revenue production (from selling the material and the electricity generated) from each material.
Feasible Alternative to Both Conventional Methods
Based on the overall results, the verdict is that CO2 capture systems using PET-derived porous carbon can realize plastic and carbon closed loops in industrial-scale applications. Such multi-purpose systems could become a feasible alternative to both conventional CO2 capture and plastic waste management technologies, and the findings of this study could help guide the decision-making process of early adopters and policymakers alike.
Most importantly, the proposed synthesis routes have great potential to meet the sustainable development goals (SDGs) put forth by the United Nations. “The upcycling of plastic waste-derived porous carbon for CO2 capture is a promising approach to meet multiple SDGs, since it can mitigate climate change and plastic pollution simultaneously and facilitate sustainable recycling of discarded PET plastic bottles in urban areas,” speculates Prof. Ok.
This work was done in collaboration with researchers from other institutions, including Prof. Hankwon Lim of Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology, Korea, and Prof. Shauhrat S. Chopra from the City University of Hong Kong, China.
Source: Korea University

Publication date: 14/03/2022

Omnexus (news)


This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 870292.