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New Technology Turns Plastic into Jet Fuel

Researchers at Washington State University have developed an innovative way to convert plastics to ingredients for jet fuel and other products.

The researchers were able to convert 90% of plastic to jet fuel and other hydrocarbon products within an hour at moderate temperatures. They added they could “easily fine-tune the process to create the products that they want.”

Led by graduate student Chuhua Jia and Hongfei Lin, an associate professor in the Gene and Linda Voiland School of Chemical Engineering and Bioengineering, the research was recently published in the journal Chem Catalysis.

“In the recycling industry, the cost of recycling is key,” Lin said. “This work is a milestone for us to advance this new technology to commercialization.”

The WSU researchers developed a catalytic process to convert polyethylene to jet fuel and other high-value lubricants. Polyethylene, also known as #1 plastic, is the most commonly used plastic, used in a variety of products from plastic bags, milk jugs, and shampoo bottles to corrosion-resistant piping, wood-plastic composite lumber, and plastic furniture.

For their process, the researchers used a ruthenium on carbon catalyst and a commonly used solvent. They were able to convert about 90% of the plastic to jet fuel components or other hydrocarbon products within an hour at a temperature of 220° Celsius (428° Fahrenheit), which is more efficient and lower than temperatures that would be typically used, they explained.

With support from the Washington Research Foundation, the researchers are working to scale up the process for future commercialization. They also believe their process could work effectively with other types of plastics.