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Scientists Found a New Way to Turn Plastic Bags into a Supermaterial

Illustration for article titled Scientists Found a New Way to Turn Plastic Bags into a Supermaterial

Have you ever had a roommate who saves plastic grocery bags just in case they ever have the need to reuse the dang things? Like, hundreds of plastic grocery bags? Well, thanks to some Australian engineers, those extra bags can not only have a purpose, they can become technology of the future.

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A team from the University of Adelaide recently developed a method for turning plastic bags into carbon nanotubes. Specifically, they grew the nanotubes on alumina membranes by vaporizing the plastic bags in a furnace and then layering the isolated carbon molecules onto the membranes. Carbon nanotubes are among the strongest and stiffest materials known to man and can be used for everything from electronics to wind turbines. And this new process creates the nanotubes while also doing away with problematic waste.

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This actually isn't the first time that scientists have built carbon nanotubes from the remnants of plastic bags. Back in 2009, a team from the Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois came up with a process that converted plastic bags into carbon nanotubes using a cobalt acetate catalyst. The scientists then used the nanotubes to build lithium ion batteries. The problem with that method, however, was that the cobalt used was rather expensive, and only one fifth of the material from the plastic bags was actually converted for use in the carbon nanotube.

The new Australian method is both cheaper and more efficient. And both methods make those nasty pieces of trash into something that we can actually use, instead of just taking up space space in your kitchen cabinet. [PhysOrg]

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DISCUSSION

MAKE2 Mifune

I always reuse grocery bags. It's handy to have on the kitchen counter when you're preparing food— just toss the food and vegetable scraps into the bag, rather than walking or bending over to the trashcan or potentially clogging the waste disposal. Also used for cat litter, carrying when taking dog out for walk, and to line the small bathroom wastebaskets.