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Rice lab finds better way to handle hard-to-recycle material

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🔖 Topics: Recycling, Flash Joule Heating

🏢 Organizations: Rice University

Glass fiber-reinforced plastic (GFRP), a strong and durable composite material, is widely used in everything from aircraft parts to windmill blades. Yet the very qualities that make it robust enough to be used in so many different applications make it difficult to dispose of ⎯ consequently, most GFRP waste is buried in a landfill once it reaches its end of life. According to a study published in Nature Sustainability, Rice University researchers and collaborators have developed a new, energy-efficient upcycling method to transform glass fiber-reinforced plastic (GFRP) into silicon carbide, widely used in semiconductors, sandpaper and other products.

This new process grinds up GFRP into a mixture of plastic and carbon and involves adding more carbon, when necessary, to make the mixture conductive. The researchers then apply high voltage to it using two electrodes, bringing its temperature up to 1,600-2,900 degrees Celsius (2,912-5,252 Fahrenheit).

While this initial study was a proof-of-concept test on a bench scale in the laboratory, Tour and colleagues are already working with outside companies to scale up the process for wider use. The operating costs to upcycle GFRP are less than $0.05 per kilogram, much cheaper than incineration or solvolysis ⎯ and more environmentally friendly.

Read more at Rice University News