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Posted March 7, 2022

Black plastics – is there a solution?

Swansea University Chemical EngineeringMost of us – especially Gen Z – would agree that protecting the environment and tackling climate change is a priority.


And it’s fantastic that it’s the members of this environmentally conscious group that are currently in or going into higher education and on a mission to find answers and solutions to the global issues we are faced with. And just remember, when you think you can’t make a difference, here is an example of ground-breaking work that is happening right now on a university level that is leading to significant change and a huge win for our planet.

Black plastics

Black plastics are everywhere. They are on your supermarket shelves, they can be found in the seas and oceans, and maybe even in your sea salt too. 60% of the 8.7million+ metric tonnes of plastic ever made is sat in landfill because it is not recyclable in our current system. And even those that are recyclable still go to landfill eventually.

Plastics cannot be recycled infinitely, at least not using traditional techniques. Most are only given one new lease of life before they end up in the earth, the ocean or an incinerator.

So, what can we do about this to make a difference? What is the solution?

Chemical recycling

Dr Alvin Orbaek White, a Senior Lecturer at Swansea University, tells us there is hope in a different form of recycling known as chemical recycling.

He explains, “In my research group we develop new approaches to tackle this growing and urgent problem. We take black plastic, break it down into small molecular units, then build up new materials using a bottom-up approach. This is based on the latest techniques from the world of nanotechnology and nanoengineering. The materials I build are carbon nanotubes and we use them for electrical wiring to transmit electrical power or electrical signals.

A demonstration model can be seen in this video where we play Bach Cello through cables made of our carbon nanotubes."

Dr White continues, "In order to survive comfortably into the next century and beyond, I believe we should find better ways to clean our environment, to remove rubbish from the planet as much as possible and to make electricity transport as efficient as possible. In our research group we are constantly thriving to find new and better ways to do this. I have also started a company to take the science from the bench space to the marketplace too.

At Swansea University I teach Heat Transfer (EG-103) to the first years who are studying Chemical Engineering. I always infuse the latest knowledge from the frontiers of research and development into my lectures. I believe it is important that students be equipped with the most up-to-date and relevant new information. I want them to both realise the importance of what they are learning and to also be equipped with information that helps them make the best decisions when they head out into the market place after they graduate. Learning isn’t just about remembering, it is also about synthesising the best path forwards based on all the information you have in front of you. I make my students think and not just learn, then they can grow and create better solutions for the problems they see around them.”

Innovation at Swansea University

Swansea UniversityThe focus at Swansea University has always been to make a positive impact by solving real-world problems through meticulous research, innovative ideas and by equipping its students and future scientists and engineers with the skills to take on opportunities and challenges.

If this has inspired you, why not consider Science and Engineering postgraduate studies at Swansea University.

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