Plastic Waste Becomes Clean Hydrogen Goldmine: An Environmental Breakthrough?

For all environmentalists and people enthusiastic about a more sustainable earth, this might be the century’s breakthrough. But is that the case? 


  • Rice University just found a way to convert plastic waste (sorted and unsorted) into high-value graphene and, in turn, clean hydrogen
  • This was achieved using a technique known as the flash joule heating
  • Kevin Wyss, who led this unique research, “In this work, we converted waste plastics ⎯ including mixed waste plastics that don’t have to be sorted by type or washed ⎯ into high-yield hydrogen gas and high-value graphene,”
  • Another vital development that he quoted was, “If the produced graphene is sold at only 5% of current market value ⎯ , it is a 95% off sale! ⎯ clean hydrogen could be produced for free.” 
  • However, making hydrogen as a by-product of graphene requires using large amounts of clean energy. Hence, precautions need to be taken against its excessive production.


A study by Rice University made possible a new way to create waste plastics into high-value graphene. This is a significant breakthrough for the industry and can completely transform the environment by utilizing all plastic waste that occupies the planet. Recycling plastic waste has always been a big issue. As per estimates, the world has around 6.3 billion tons of it. That is a HUGE amount. 


Through this process, not just hydrogen gas, which is a clean fuel, will be produced, but the whole thing becomes much more economically viable as the end product is graphene. 


Much research has been conducted, and work has been done to achieve something of the sort. However, it has been difficult, and the commercial use of green hydrogen has been restricted due to the considerable financial costs incurred in its manufacturing. Even though hydrogen is produced for industrial applications, it is mainly made from fossil fuels. “The main form of hydrogen used today is ‘gray’ hydrogen, which is produced through steam-methane reforming, a method that generates a lot of carbon dioxide,” said James Tour, Rice’s T. T. and W. F. Chao Professor of Chemistry and a professor of materials science and nanoengineering. He also said, “Demand for hydrogen will likely skyrocket over the next few decades, so we can’t keep making it the same way we have up until now if we’re serious about reaching net zero emissions by 2050.”


Green hydrogen is made from clean energies and has not been used much because it is costly. But this massive development might change everything. If green hydrogen is a by-product of graphene production, then it’s almost free! However, the whole thing needs to be powered by renewable energies to make it environmentally safe and green. 

Is Everything As Great As It Seems?

Lots of industries and collective communities have been making efforts for global decarbonization. This would significantly reduce carbon dioxide emissions and contribute to a healthier planet. However, not all is as easy as it seems. From the looks of everything, it might seem that green hydrogen is the perfect solution. This is not entirely true. A lot of renewable energy is needed to manufacture green hydrogen that may be of better use in other applications. Hence, using too much green hydrogen might actually cause the environment more harm as a lot of the precious renewable resources will be directed into its production. 


It is essential to consider all aspects of creating green hydrogen, a proper cost-benefit analysis, and take precautionary measures to not make too much of it. However, the overall prospect seems good, and the incentive of plastic waste elimination means it might be something that will dominate the future.


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