These hungry superworms happily munch through plastic

 

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A superworm can eat about eight times more than other plastic-ingesting insects.

Recycling seems like a simple cure for our plastic addiction: just take the plastic we have and make it into new items. But problems abound. Current technology mostly creates plastic of a lower quality than it was before, many types of plastic aren’t recyclable at all, and much of the plastic is floating in the ocean, not even in the recycling stream. So it’s vital that we find new ways to break down plastic, and scientists have just discovered one: a superworm that can eat about eight times more than other plastic-ingesting insects like mealworms.

Superworms are actually beetle larvae, and commonly sold at pet stores as food for reptiles and fish. In a paper recently published by the American Chemical Society, researchers Jiaojie Li, Dae-Hwan Kim, and their team detail how they placed 50 superworms in a chamber with two grams of polystyrene. After 21 days, the superworms had consumed about 70% of the polystyrene.

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In this “biorecycling” factory, enzymes perfectly break down plastic so it can be used again

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In this “biorecycling” factory, enzymes perfectly break down plastic so it can be used again

 The process lets any plastic—say a polyester shirt—be recycled into any other plastic (like a clear water bottle). It could fundamentally change the market for recycling.

Inside a bioreactor in the laboratory of the France-based startup Carbios, pulverized PET plastic waste—the kind of plastic found in drink bottles and polyester clothing—is mixed with water and enzymes, heated up, and churned. In a matter of hours, the enzymes decompose the plastic into the material’s basic building blocks, called monomers, which can then be separated, purified, and used to make new plastic that’s identical to virgin material. Later this year, the company will begin construction on its first demonstration recycling plant.

“Our process can use any kind of PET waste to manufacture any kind of PET object,” says Martin Stephan, the company’s deputy CEO. It’s a process that could happen in an infinite loop: Unlike traditional recycling, which degrades materials each time you do it, this type of “biorecycling” can happen repeatedly without a loss in quality. A new transparent water bottle made this way will look and perform like one made from oil, even if the source was a mixture of old clothing and dirty plastic food trays. “The final product will be the same quality as petrochemical PET,” Stephan says.

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IBM researchers predict 5 innovations will change our lives in 5 years

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IBM Research has a long history of inventing the future, so the big tech company’s researchers take their predictions seriously. Today they are revealing their annual “5 in 5” predictions, which detail five innovations that will change our lives in the next five years.

IBM will talk about the predictions at its Think 2019 event in San Francisco on Wednesday from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. Pacific time.

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