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Plastic Shopping Bags Recycled into Nanomaterial

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Carbon NanotubeAt the University of Adelaide in Australia, plastic shopping bags have become high-tech nanomaterial.

Researchers at the University of Adelaide’s Nanotech Research Group have figured out how to take non-biodegradable plastic shopping bags and turn them into carbon nanotube membranes, thereby turning a serious threat to the ecosystem into a resource with a host of advanced applications, including filtration, sensing, energy storage, and biomedical tools.

Transforming the shopping bags through nanotechnological recycling is helping to minimize environmental pollution. The process is catalyst and solvent free, which means the plastic waste can be used without generating poisonous compounds.

Carbon nanotubes are tiny cylinders of carbon atoms, one nanometer in diameter. They are the strongest and stiffest materials known to man. They are used in a host of industries including in sports equipment, electronics, long-lasting batteries, sensing devices, and wind turbines.

Researchers at the Nanotech Research Group have already grown the carbon nanotubes on the nanoporous alumina membranes and recycled pieces from the plastic bags, vaporized in a furnace first, to create the carbon layers that line the pores of the membrane to create the carbon nanotubes.

There is great market potential for carbon nanotubes, and it all hinges on the industry’s ability to produce mass amounts cheaply and consistently. To date, synthesis methods typically involve complex processes and equipment, but researchers are working to make the process affordable.

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