Plastics are everywhere these days, but current recycling techniques allow only a very limited portion to be reclaimed after initial use. Researchers in the Department of Chemical Engineering at North Carolina State University, working to change that, have developed a unique recycling process for some of the most common kinds of polymers.
Joan Patterson, doctoral student in chemical engineering at North Carolina State University, demonstrates the twin-screw extruder that will be used to recycle PET plastic bottles into plastic pellets, in bag at left.
© NC State University
The familiar soda bottle is made of a plastic called polyethylene terephthalate (PET). These bottles are ubiquitous, yet recycling them poses challenges, primarily because of contaminants or impurities. Dr. George W. Roberts, professor of chemical engineering, Dr. Saad A. Khan, professor of chemical engineering and director of the chemical engineering graduate program, and Joan Patterson, doctoral student in chemical engineering, are working on a project designed to address this problem.
“We’re trying to develop a process where we can take waste polymer and convert it back into the material from which it was made. In the process, all the impurities are removed from the polymer,” said Roberts. “Ideally, this should be done in a single step because the economics have to make sense for the process to have widespread applicability.”
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