Scientists at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore have developed a process using light-emitting diodes (LEDs) and a commercially available catalyst to upcycle most plastics into chemical ingredients for energy storage. Unlike heat-driven recycling processes like pyrolysis, this new method is energy-efficient and can be powered by renewable energy. The process overcomes the challenge of recycling plastics with inert carbon-carbon bonds, which are difficult to break. Currently, pyrolysis is the only commercial method but it is expensive and generates greenhouse emissions. The new method uses LEDs to break down the carbon-carbon bonds in plastics, resulting in chemical ingredients such as formic acid and benzoic acid. Unlike other emerging technologies, this LED-driven method requires less energy. The process can use sunlight or renewable energy to recycle a range of plastics such as polypropylene, polyethylene, and polystyrene. The researchers believe that if Singapore can upcycle 80% of its plastics, it could reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 2.1 million tonnes. The economic benefit of reducing emissions is estimated to be S$41.40m per year in Singapore. The team has filed a patent for the photocatalytic process and is seeking partners for commercialization. This innovation aligns with NTU’s commitment to sustainability and the university’s goal of being carbon neutral by 2035.

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