Scientists from India’s University of Petroleum and Energy Studies (UPES) have come up with a new strategy of turning dumped PPE into biofuel.
According to a paper published in the Taylor & Francis journal ‘Biofuels’, the UPES study has shown how billions of items of disposable PPE can be converted from its polypropylene (plastic) state into biofuels.
Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) are being disposed of at unprecedented levels due to the current COVID-19 pandemic, thereby becoming a significant threat to the environment.
“Presently, the world is focusing to combat COVID-19, however, we can foresee the issues of economic crisis and ecological imbalance also,” explains lead author Dr Sapna Jain.
“There is a high production and utilization of PPE to protect the community of health workers and other frontline workers of COVID-19. The disposal of PPE is a concern owing to its material i.e. non-woven polypropylene.”
Transforming dumped PPE into biocrude will not just prevent the severe after-effects to humankind and the environment but also produce a source of energy, contends Jain.
The UPES research team reviewed many related research articles as they looked to explore the current policies around PPE disposal, the polypropylene content in PPE, and the feasibility of converting PPE into biofuel.
In particular, they focused on the structure of polypropylene, its suitability for PPE, why it poses an environmental threat and methods of recycling this polymer.
Their conclusive findings call for the PPE waste to be converted into fuel using pyrolysis. This a chemical process for breaking down plastic at high temperature – between 300-400 degree centigrade for an hour – without oxygen.
According to co-author Dr Bhawna Yadav Lamba, pyrolysis is among the most promising and sustainable methods of recycling compared with incineration and landfill.
“There is always a need for alternative fuels or energy resources to meet our energy demands,” she says. “The pyrolysis of plastics is one of the methods to mitigate our energy crisis.”
Image and content: Taylor & Francis Group