Inventors: Taylor Uekert & Dr Christian Pichler, Chemistry
Mentor: TBC

The Reisner lab in Chemistry works on a range of patented photoreforming processes, which use photocatalysts and sunlight to simultaneously break down plastic waste or biomatter and generate hydrogen.

In this project, a non-toxic, carbon-based and easily-available photocatalyst is used to break down plastics into a mixture of small organic molecules and hydrogen gas. So far the process works best on polar plastics, which include polyethylene terephthalate (like water bottles) and some polyurethanes. It also works on food-contaminated plastics, which many existing processes do not.

The plastic waste needs to be ground into small pieces, mixed with water and the catalyst, and then exposed to sunlight for several weeks. Typically half of the plastic will be reformed after two weeks.

The inventors are hoping that their method will be able to contribute to efforts to address the increasing global problem of plastic waste and pollution.

The question for the i-Team is two-fold. First is to investigate how plastic waste is currently recycled or disposed of and how this process is paid for, with an emphasis on activities in the developing world where much of the recycling takes place. Second is to identify potential partners (governmental or industrial) that may be interested in supporting the development of this technology. The i-Team will then be asked to use this knowledge to recommend countries and stages in the recycling process where the new method would have the greatest use, as well as partners to help bring the technology forwards within this context.