Retail and grocery stores are beginning to limit the use of, or even ban, plastic bags because of their harm to the environment. But researchers in Australia have found a way to reuse these bags by turning them into high-tech nanomaterial that can be used in a number of advanced applications.
Researchers at the Nanotech Research Group at the University of Adelaide in Australia have developed nanotechnology that uses plastic grocery bags to create carbon nanotube membranes, material that is generally expensive to produce and is sophisticated in nature. The membranes can be used for a variety of applications, including filtration, sensing, energy storage, and biomedical technology.
"Non-biodegradable plastic bags are a serious menace to natural ecosystems and present a problem in terms of disposal," says Professor Dusan Losic, a fellow and research professor of nanotechnology in the University's School of Chemical Engineering, in a press release. "Transforming these waste materials through 'nanotechnological recycling' provides a potential solution for minimizing environmental pollution at the same time as producing high-added value products."
PhD student Tariq Altalhi -- who studies with Losic -- came up with the technology and process to turn plastic bags into nanotech material. To create these tubes, researchers vaporized plastic bags in a furnace to produce carbon layers that they used to line pores onto nanoporous alumina membranes. The carbon-lined pores combined with carbon nanotubes were grown onto these membranes to form the material.
The tubes themselves are cylinders of carbon atoms with a thickness of one nanometer, or 1/10,000 the diameter of a human hair. So far, they are the strongest materials scientists have discovered -- hundreds of times stronger than steel, but six times lighter -- and are being used for a number of applications. They include
new battery designs, and even a
solar-powered artificial retina.
The researchers’ method for creating this material not only creates a useful way to reuse plastic bags, but also provides a less expensive and more accessible way to produce the nanotubes, Losic said in the press release. Current synthesis methods typically involve complex processes and equipment that only produce several grams of material a day.
"In our laboratory, we've developed a new and simplified method of fabrication with controllable dimensions and shapes, and using a waste product as the carbon source," he said. The process is also is free from catalysts and solvents, which means it doesn’t generate poisonous compounds.
Losic, Altalhi, and their colleagues published a paper about their work in the journal