Panasonic has developed a recycling technique that uses titanium oxide to convert unrecoverable plastic and other organic compounds to a "harmless" gas. The key focus is on separating wires from their coatings and extract the other rubbers and plastics that make up the non-recyclable 20% of home-appliance waste. Panasonic's stated goal is to "completely eliminate mixed plastic waste." And if that ain't bold enough, the process reduces CO2 emissions, too, because the gasification process itself doesn't require much energy. Here's how it works:

The mixed materials are bathed in titanium oxide (TiO2), jostled about by machinery to ensure an even distribution of the good stuff. The chemicals react to the plastics and other organics, generating tremendous heat. Water is used to maintain a 500°C temperature, ideal for the gasification. One by-product of the gasification of vinyl chloride is hydrogen chloride; that is "neutralized" with lime.

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Panasonic doesn't mention any other by-products. In fact, the company insists that the output consists of "harmless gases," and that there are no "hazardous side-effects." If this is all true, then maybe Panasonic should think about building a compact one for every kitchen in the world. What do you think? Ten years?

Press Release:

Panasonic Uses Catalytic Reaction to Decompose Plastics Into Harmless Gas for E-Waste Recycling

-Eliminating need for incinerating or dumping plastic waste in landfill-

Osaka, Japan - Panasonic, by which Matsushita Electric Industrial Co., Ltd. is known, today announced that the company has developed together with Kusatsu Electric Co., Ltd. a recycling technology that enables the recovery of metals from plastic-coated wires and plastics used in electric and electronic equipment without causing hazardous side-effects.

Using the catalytic properties of titanium oxide (TiO2), the innovative technology facilitates recovery of inorganic substances such as metals by transforming organic substances such as plastics into harmless gases.

Panasonic is successfully using the new technology at the Matsushita Eco Technology Center (METEC) to recover copper from degaussing coils covered with vinyl chloride tape found in CRT TVs. In addition, mixed plastic waste destined for incineration or landfill is treated and changed into non-toxic gases at METEC. The method not only contributes to "zero waste," but also helps reduce CO2 emissions as little external energy source is required in the gasification process.

Today, about 80 percent, by weight, of all collected home appliances is recycled into metallic and plastic materials. The remaining 20 percent is currently regarded as non-recyclable waste e.g. rubber, mixed glass and mixed plastic waste which is difficult to sort further as it is comprised of many different types of resins or contains metals. Although some mixed plastic waste can be used as fuel in general, the waste containing certain chemicals such as vinyl chloride needs to be treated in a high-temperature incinerator to avoid dioxin emissions.

The new recycling method combines Kusatsu Electric's non-incineration plastic disposal technology using TiO2 and Panasonic's high grade materials recovery technology that is used by Panasonic to recycle old home appliances. The method uses unique mixing and carrier systems that allow plastics to contact the catalyst efficiently for gasification, leaving the valuable metals. As the catalytic reaction of TiO2 generates heat to promote gasification, an additional heating source is not required in the process. The method uses cooling water to maintain temperature (500°C) for optimal catalytic reaction. The subsequent heated water from the process can be used for other purposes. Hydrogen chloride produced during the gasification process of vinyl chloride is neutralized with lime.

Panasonic aims to completely eliminate mixed plastic waste and spread the use of this environment-friendly technology to recycling-related facilities and further to production facilities in and out of the Panasonic group.

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