Researchers of the University of Adelaide, Dusan Losic Research Professor of Nanotechnology and his PhD student Tariq Altalhi used non-biodegradable plastic grocery bags to make carbon nanotube membranes.
According to professor Dusan Losic "Non-biodegradable plastic bags are a serious menace to natural ecosystems and present a problem in terms of disposal, and transforming these waste materials through 'nanotechnological recycling' provides a potential solution for minimizing environmental pollution at the same time as producing high-added value products".
Scientists had 'grown' the carbon nanotubes onto nanoporous alumina membranes. They used pieces of grocery plastic bags which were vaporized in a furnace to produce carbon layers that line the pores in the membrane to make the tiny cylinders (the carbon nanotubes). "Initially we used ethanol to produce the carbon nanotubes," says Professor Losic. "But my student had the idea that any carbon source should be useable."
The huge potential market for carbon nanotubes hinges on industry's ability to produce large quantities more cheaply and uniformly. Current synthesis methods usually involve complex processes and equipment, and most companies on the market measure production output in only several grams per day.
The process is also catalyst and solvent free, which means the plastic waste can be used without generating poisonous compounds.