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Solar-powered cleanup

SCIENCE | A novel system breaks down plastic waste

A solar-powered reactor for converting plastic and greenhouse gases into fuels Reisner Lab

Solar-powered cleanup
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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.

Heather Frank

Heather is a science correspondent for WORLD. She is a graduate of World Journalism Institute, the University of Maryland, and Carnegie Mellon University. She has worked in both food and chemical product development, and currently works as a research chemist. Heather resides with her family in Pittsburgh, Pa.


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