Updated: May 6, 2020
'Plastic pollution may well represent an opportunity, rather than a threat to the successful production of biofuel by hydrothermal liquefaction'
Plastic pollution from the local fishing industry. Saltern Cove, Devon
Plastic is fast becoming a prominent issue in the marine environment, creating many issues for our marine life. It is estimated that plastic pollution kills 100,000 marine mammals and turtles and over a million seabirds annually. Plastic can enter our ocean from many different sources - from ineffective disposal to littering. The fishing industry can also contribute, when lobster pots are lost or broken nets are dumped over the side of the vessel. This nylon fishing waste can become entangled in seaweed travelling for miles before washing up on beaches all over the world. This may make continual harvesting and biorefining of seaweed challenging.
Our hydrothermal process involves collecting seaweed and heating it under pressure, causing it to fraction into various useful phases. Due to current plastic pollution levels it is highly likely that plastics will be collected into this eventual continuous biorefinery system, potentially creating a barrier to the process. However, there are studies that show plastics may prove promising in the development of future biorefineries (Find out more here). Over the next few weeks we are going to trail some hydrothermal runs on seaweed with varying amounts of plastics to better understand the outcome.
Next up, we'll find out more about the hydrothermal liquefaction process with our colleagues at the University of Bath.
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