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Self-Perpetuating Carbon Foam Microwave Plasma Conversion of Hydrocarbon Wastes into Useful Fuels and Chemicals

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posted on 06.04.2021, 09:30 authored by Guiyin Xu, Haibin Jiang, Myles Stapelberg, Jiawei Zhou, Mengyang Liu, Qing-Jie Li, Yunteng Cao, Rui Gao, Minggang Cai, Jinliang Qiao, Mitchell S Galanek, Weiwei Fan, Weijiang Xue, Benedetto Marelli, Meifang Zhu, Ju Li
White wastes (unseparated plastics, face masks, textiles, etc.) pose a serious challenge to sustainable human development and the ecosystem and have recently been exacerbated due to the surge in plastic usage and medical wastes from COVID-19. Current recycling methods such as chemical recycling, mechanical recycling, and incineration require either pre-sorting and washing or releasing CO2. In this work, a carbon foam microwave plasma process is developed, utilizing plasma discharge to generate surface temperatures exceeding ∼3000 K in a N2 atmosphere, to convert unsorted white wastes into gases (H2, CO, C2H4, C3H6, CH4, etc.) and small amounts of inorganic minerals and solid carbon, which can be buried as artificial “coal”. This process is self-perpetuating, as the new solid carbon asperities grafted onto the foam’s surface actually increase the plasma discharge efficiency over time. This process has been characterized by in situ optical probes and infrared sensors and optimized to handle most of the forms of white waste without the need for pre-sorting or washing. Thermal measurement and modeling show that in a flowing reactor, the device can achieve locally extremely high temperatures, but the container wall will still be cold and can be made with cheap materials, and thus, a miniaturized waste incinerator is possible that also takes advantage of intermittent renewable electricity.