Using pyrolysis, a high-temperature chemical process, scientists at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore (NTU Singapore) have devised a new way of converting plastic waste into hydrogen. Plastic litter includes contaminated food packaging, styrofoam, and plastic bags, unlike PET plastic bottles, is difficult to recycle and is currently burnt or buried in landfills, causing both water and ground contamination.
Scientists at NTU have developed a new process for converting plastic waste into two major products: hydrogen and carbon nanotubes, a high-value material utilized in biomedical and industrial applications. Hydrogen can be used to generate electricity and power fuel cells such as those found in electric vehicles, with the only by-product being pure water. Singapore’s intention to study hydrogen technologies as part of its push to diversify energy sources includes developing such hydrogen technologies, which might replace fossil fuels like natural gas while lowering the country’s carbon footprint.
In partnership with the Ocean Purpose Study, a non-governmental organization and social entrepreneurship, this waste-to-hydrogen research project utilized marine litter gathered from local seas. The collaborative research, which is being carried out in collaboration with Bluefield Renewable Energy, reveals the potential for all non-recyclable plastics to be recycled into fuels and high-value commodities. Scaling up this technology to an industrial scale will be a significant step forward for Singapore, providing a new source of clean energy as it implements its Zero Waste Masterplan. The country is currently attempting to limit the amount of rubbish disposed of at Semakau Landfill by 30% by 2030, extending the landfill’s life beyond 2035.
The Zero Waste Masterplan in Singapore
Singapore’s first Zero Waste Masterplan lays out the country’s major strategies for becoming a more sustainable, resource-efficient, and climate-resilient nation. Adopting a circular economy approach to waste and resource management practices, as well as changing toward more sustainable production and consumption, are all part of this. The volume of rubbish disposed of in Singapore has increased sevenfold in the last 40 years. Semakau Landfill, Singapore’s only landfill, may run out of space by 2035 if current trends continue. In Singapore, there is a scarcity of land for new incinerator facilities or landfills.
Furthermore, while garbage incineration is efficient and avoids concerns with land and marine contamination, it emits carbon dioxide, which contributes to climate change. The Masterplan has set a new waste reduction objective for Singapore: by 2030, the amount of waste sent to Semakau Landfill per day would be reduced by 30%, extending the landfill’s life beyond 2035. Furthermore, like Singapore, like other parts of the world, battles climate change and rising waste, the country is investing in research and development and collaborating with industry experts to develop new, more efficient, and environmentally friendly ways to support the circular economy approach by recovering resources from waste.
This includes employing bacteria to convert food waste into compost and even incinerator ash into construction materials, to name a few examples of the various ways we may shut our waste and resource loops through recycling and reuse. We developed these improvements as a result of our research into cutting-edge science and technology for more sustainable solutions. For example, R&D enabled the construction of Semakau Landfill, the world’s first offshore landfill, and Tuas Nexus, the world’s first Waste-to-Energy incineration plant co-located with a water treatment facility to maximize synergies.
Singapore will continue to place a strong emphasis on R&D in order to develop and improve new technologies, products, and systems that can be used and eventually shared. The region intends to pioneer innovative approaches for Singapore to maximize resource use in the next years.