Plastic waste could fuel cars of the future

Plastic waste could be turned into fuel for cars (Peter Byrne/PA) Credit: PA Archive/PA Images

Discarded plastic could be used as fuel for cars following a scientific breakthrough.

Scientists have been able to turn plastic into hydrogen which could then be used to power vehicles.

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.