Microwave energy is used to heat the plastic waste above 600 degrees C within the chamber, where it ends up as a biochar, which can then be used to improve the properties of soil. Credit: Handout.

Australian scientists have designed a system which uses microwaves to decompose plastic into an environmentally friendly by-product, Xinhua reported.

Head of Electrical Engineering at Australia’s James Cook University, Prof. Mohan Jacob revealed on Thursday that by using microwaves, plastic waste can be converted into biochar, charcoal that can be used as a soil conditioner.

“We are developing a processing chamber, which could process many kinds of plastic materials, up to 5 kilograms of waste,” Jacob said.

“It will be a prototype system for the development of biochars from different types of plastics under various conditions.”

Jacob explained that microwave energy is used to heat the plastic waste above 600 degrees centigrade within the custom made chamber, where it ends up as a biochar, which can then be used to improve the properties of soil, the report said.

Currently underway is step one of the project, testing the chamber, after which, step two will involve optimizing the energy efficiency of the system and maximizing the yield of by-products.

If all goes to plan, step three will be to construct a medium scale waste processing system which is customizable and can be installed remotely.

Jacob said that with the average person using 130 kg of plastic every year, there is an urgent need for developing better ways of processing it/

“Perhaps contrary to popular opinion, plastic is an indispensable material in modern life. It is cheap, versatile, lightweight, and has many benefits like maintaining food quality and safety and preventing waste,” he said.

However, “discarded plastics endanger our marine wildlife, and have begun to enter the food chain. There is an urgent need for developing technologies to recover plastic waste.”

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