Scientists have developed a way to convert plastic bottle waste into flexible and durable aerogels that could be used for heat and sound insulation in buildings, oil spill cleaning, and as a lightweight lining for firefighter coats and masks.
Plastic waste is toxic and non-biodegradable. Such waste often ends up in oceans and landfills, affecting marine life and causing problems such as groundwater contamination and land scarcity.
Globally, the annual consumption of plastic bottles has been rising steadily, and it is expected to exceed half a trillion tons per year by 2021.
“Plastic bottle waste is one of the most common type of plastic waste and has detrimental effects on the environment,” said Hai Minh Duong, an associate professor at National University of Singapore (NUS).
Plastic bottles are commonly made from polyethylene terephthalate (PET), which is the most recycled plastic in the world.
“Our team has developed a simple, cost-effective and green method to convert plastic bottle waste into PET aerogels for many exciting uses,” said Duong.
” One plastic bottle can be recycled to produce an A4-sized PET aerogel sheet. The fabrication technology is also easily scalable for mass production. In this way, we can help cut down the harmful environmental damage caused by plastic waste,” he said.
The PET aerogels developed are soft, flexible, durable, extremely light and easy to handle. They also demonstrate superior thermal insulation and strong absorption capacity. These properties make them attractive for a wide range of applications, such as for heat and sound insulation in buildings, oil spill cleaning, and also as a lightweight lining for firefighter coats and carbon dioxide absorption masks that could be used during fire rescue operations and fire escape.
In their earlier work, the research team had successfully converted paper and fashion waste into cellulose and cotton aerogels respectively. The research team has filed a patent for its novel PET aerogel technology and will continue to enhance the performance of the PET aerogels and explore new applications. The NUS researchers are also keen to work with companies to bring the technology to market.