SCIENCE | A novel system breaks down plastic waste
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Using the sun for energy, researchers at the University of Cambridge have pioneered a system that converts plastic waste into useful chemicals. The system is the first solar-powered technique to simultaneously convert plastic and the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide into useful products.
During photocatalysis, a material (the catalyst) absorbs enough light energy to make a chemical reaction occur. In the Cambridge team’s system, a solar-powered reactor uses the mineral perovskite to absorb sunlight.
In initial testing, the system converted plastic bottles into glycolic acid while converting carbon dioxide into syngas. Syngas, primarily a mixture of hydrogen and carbon monoxide, can be further processed to generate heat, electricity, diesel, and hydrogen gas. Glycolic acid doesn’t require further processing to be used in industries ranging from cosmetics to textiles.
Publishing their findings Jan. 9 in Nature Synthesis, the scientists reported that their reactor’s production rate was 10-100 times greater than that of traditional photocatalytic reactors. With an estimated 400 million metric tons of plastic waste generated globally each year, a method for reducing the surplus could prove pivotal.
Chocolate: makes mouth happy
Why is chocolate so delectable? Scientists at the University of Leeds have discovered that’s partly due to its fat content. When chocolate melts in the mouth, fat on the treat’s outer surface creates a film around the tongue and mouth that makes the chocolate feel deliciously smooth. The researchers, publishing their study Jan. 12 in ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces, hope to develop low-fat chocolates that still taste luxurious. —H.F.
Why obesity hits men harder
York University scientists may now understand why men are more than three times as likely as women to die from obesity-related diseases—including cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Their research, published in the Jan. 20 issue of iScience, points the blame at genetics.
The scientists compared the genetic makeup of endothelial cells, which make up the blood vessels in fat tissue, of male and female mice. In an earlier study, they’d found that obese female mice produce more blood vessels to provide oxygen and nutrients to fat tissue than do their male counterparts.
The new research revealed distinct genetic differences between male and female mice. Genetic processes associated with generation of new blood cells were higher in the female mice’s fat tissue, whereas genetic processes associated with inflammation—a trigger for disease—were higher in the fat tissue of the male mice. —H.F.
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