CSR / Sustainability Monitor

A made-in-Singapore solution to the world’s plastic waste problem

The researchers have recycled environmental waste into a highly insulating and absorbent material (Source: Channel News Asia)

National University of Singapore (NUS) scientists have found a way to turn plastic bottles and other wastes into ‘one of the most promising materials in the 21st century’.

Imagine there?s a way to turn the plastic waste that ends up in oceans and landfills into a life-saving material, say, for making cheap fire-resistant jackets for all people.

It isn?t hard to do ? at least, not any more ? for a team of researchers in Singapore dreaming of reducing environmental waste and sharing their breakthrough with the world.

These scientists from the NUS and the Singapore Institute of Manufacturing Technology have converted polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles into a highly insulating and absorbent material called aerogel.

Aerogels, the lightest and most porous materials known to man, have existed since the 1930s ? and were used to insulate the Mars Pathfinder rover in the 1990s.

But this is the first time an aerogel has been made from PET, the same plastic used for water and soft drink bottles.

And with an estimated eight million tonnes of plastic waste entering the world?s oceans each year, there is no shortage of material that could be recycled into aerogel products instead.

Their possible real-life applications include: As a lining for fire-retardant coats and carbon dioxide absorption masks that could be used during a fire; better heat and sound insulation in buildings; and cleaning oil spills.

NUS Associate Professor Hai Minh Duong, the co-leader of the research team, once used to wonder when he saw oil and plastic waste on the beach: ?Can we use the rubbish on the beach to clean the oil spills??

Fellow co-leader, Prof Nhan Phan-Thien, wanted to come up with a real product for everyone, after a lifetime of producing theories.

?We want everyone to have a (fire-resistant) jacket. For example, we all live in high-rise buildings, and the first thing is safety. And if there?s a fire ? everyone can be safe,? he cites.

Read more on this innovation at Channel News Asia