Electronic waste has energy value: Obtaining clean hydrogen from plastics

Experimental arrangement by Joseba Andoni Salbidegoitia

Leioa, Bizkaia — Researchers at the UPV/EHU-University of the Basque Country are developing systems to recover hydrogen using waste plastics from electronic boards. Using discarded electronic boards, the UPV/EHU researcher Andoni Salbidegoitia has, in collaboration with international researchers, developed a system for obtaining clean hydrogen that can be used as fuel. The researchers have already registered the patent of the process in Japan.

The Chemical Technologies for Environmental Sustainability (TQSA) Group of the Department of Chemical Engineering of the UPV/EHU’s Faculty of Science and Technology is aiming to make use of discarded plastic as effectively as possible from the environmental as well as energy and economic point of view.

Plastics are petroleum-based products, so rather than a waste product they should be regarded as a source of raw materials and usable energy. The researcher Andoni Salbidegoitia is developing alternatives for treating the plastic waste that is the most difficult to treat, either because of its composition or because it is so mixed up with other substances and separating them is very costly.

During a research stay at the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology in Japan, Salbidegoitia participated in a piece of research that resulted in a patent: the obtaining of clean hydrogen, which can be used as fuel, by using waste electronic components achieved through a gasification process. Today, plastic waste from electronic components is increasing exponentially in advanced countries; these waste materials need specific treatment as they contain a great variety of very valuable metals that can also be recovered. In the process the waste is treated using steam, the metals present in the waste act as a catalyst and under certain conditions gaseous hydrogen is obtained: a fuel that is becoming established but whose main problem lies in storing it.

This gasification process can be used on an industrial level and it has been fully resolved. In fact, „the gasification of plastic waste has already been deployed on an industrial level“ in Japan, explained Salbidegoitia. To be able to use it here, apart from the economic investment, one would have to look at how and where the fuel product obtained could be used“.

Source: Universidad del País Vasco / Euskal Herriko Unibertsitatea