During the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, thousands of tons of surgical masks were used and discarded each month. Lithuanian researchers may have discovered an environmentally friendly way to handle this garbage by converting it into hydrogen energy.
A range of experiments were carried out by the researchers
Researchers from Kaunas University of Technology (KTU) and the Lithuanian Energy Institute investigated the prospects of plasma gasification as an environmentally acceptable solution in their investigations to convert surgical mask waste into clean energy products, including hydrogen energy.
After conducting several tests, the researchers were able to produce synthetic gas, or syngas, that included a high concentration of hydrogen.
Using faulty FFP2 (Filtering Face Piece level 2) masks, the researchers used plasma gasification to turn the trash from surgical masks into hydrogen energy. The masks were first reduced to a uniform particle size and then converted into easily controllable granules for the treatment process.
Their trials yielded the maximum amount of hydrogen at a steam-to-carbon (S/C) ratio of 1.45. Given the circumstances the obtained syngas had a heating value that was 42% greater than the biomass-produced syngas.
Gasification has a lot of potential as a waste to hydrogen energy method
“There are two ways of converting waste to energy – by transforming solid waste into liquid product, or gases. Gasification allows converting vast amounts of waste to syngas, which is like natural and is a composition of several gases (such as hydrogen, carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, and methane),” explained Samy Yousef , a chief researcher at KUT, Lithuania.
Yousef continued, “We experimented with the composition of this synthetic gas, increasing its concentration of hydrogen and, consequently, its heating value.”
Yousef highlights gasification as a traditional waste-to-energy method. The innovative approach of arc plasma gasification, due to its high temperatures, quickly transforms face masks into gas, featuring hydrogen as a key component of the produced gas mixture. This method exemplifies a rapid and efficient recycling process.
According to Yousef, advanced gasification techniques such as plasma gasification are more effective in achieving a higher concentration of hydrogen (up to 50%) during the syngas generation process. Additionally, it results in higher-quality syngas by reducing the quantity of tar in them.
Yousef contrasts pyrolysis, which can take an hour to achieve results, with the much quicker advanced gasification process. This innovative method, involving arc plasma, instantaneously converts materials into gas, with hydrogen being a significant output, demonstrating a more efficient approach to generating energy from waste.
Hydrogen is abundant in syngas
According to Yousef, one of the greatest ways to obtain hydrogen-rich syngas is by plasma gasification.
The researchers think there is a good chance their method of turning surgical mask trash into hydrogen energy and other practical clean energy products may be brought to market.
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