A Swansea-led team of scientists has developed a new technique for converting hazardous COVID waste into clean hydrogen fuel.
The project which was recently awarded with a $62,000 funding by the Welsh Government, is being spearheaded by Swansea’s Dr Moritz Kuehnel.
He along with epidemiology experts from India’s King Institute of Preventive Medicine & Research and Thiruvalluvar University, have proposed using sunlight to convert hazardous medical waste into hydrogen fuel.
For the record, UK’s National Health Service (NHS) spends close to $925 million a year disposing of medical waste. Add the pandemic’s COVID waste to this, and the numbers go skyrocketing.
The Kuehnel-led team has now proposed using ‘photoreforming’ to simultaneously kill viruses and convert non-recyclable waste into clean hydrogen fuel.
“Since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have witnessed a global surge in single-use medical waste and PPE polluting the environment such as disposable face masks littering beaches,” notes Kuehnel.
“Applying our technology to reprocess just 1% of this waste would save millions and mitigate pollution at the same time.”
According to the scientists, the process works by using nanostructured semiconductors to drive the degradation of waste and pathogens with sunlight.
The current go-to-method for disposing medical waste is by incineration and this causes air pollution.
In contrast, the new photoreforming process does not generate greenhouse gases and works at ambient temperature.
Apart from producing hydrogen fuel, the process can also generate organic feedstocks for the chemical industry.
The Indian team – including scientists from the Indian Institute of Technology Mandi – is also helping examine the photocatalysts’ antiviral activity against different pathogens, including SARS-CoV-2.
Image and content: Dr Moritz Kuehnel/Swansea University