Transforming Plastic Waste into Sustainable Fuel with the University of Cambridge

engineering careers  Transforming Plastic Waste into Sustainable Fuel with the University of Cambridge

The University of Cambridge has recently unveiled a groundbreaking technology that could change the way we think about our plastic and carbon dioxide (CO2) waste.

The machine takes in waste and CO2 and through a photoelectrochemical system transforms them into valuable materials like synthetic gas and glycolic acid.

solar powered system c

The Cambridge research team created their machine with two compartments – one for greenhouse gases, such as CO2 from burning fossil fuels, and another for plastic waste, such as PET bottles. To make this process possible, they used a light absorber called “perovskite” which is embedded with a chemical catalyst. When sunlight hits the perovskite, it excites electrons which then react with the catalyst to turn CO2 into compounds like ethylene or ethanol. The same process can be applied to PET plastic bottles, turning them into propylene or butanol.

solar powered system c 1

The implications of this technology could be massive. It not only provides an eco-friendly solution that turns Earth-destroying byproducts into useful materials but also has the ability to work with multiple materials simultaneously – something that other technologies lack but it also produces synthetic gas – a key component in sustainable liquid fuels – as well as glycolic acid which is used in cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, and food production.

This means that not only does it reduce environmental damage but also creates valuable resources for various industries.

The new tech has revolutionary potential when it comes to reducing our reliance on traditional fuel sources while also cutting down on plastic waste and CO2 emissions. Its ability to produce synthetic gas and glycolic acid opens up new possibilities in terms of sustainable energy solutions and product development that could help combat climate change on a global scale.

While a lot more testing is needed before implementation on a wider scale is possible, this breakthrough could be yet another step forward toward sustainable living for us all and proof that engineering is important of the puzzle in creating a greener future.


  • A team of researchers at the University of Cambridge has built a machine that transforms both CO2 and plastic waste into sustainable fuel and other valuable materials, using only energy from the Sun to do so.
  • As detailed in a new study published in the journal Nature Synthesis, their “photoelectrochemical” system is unique not only in its ability to turn Earth-destroying byproducts like CO2 and plastics into useful and sustainable materials but also its ability to work with multiple materials at once.
  • The reactor uses a light absorber called perovskite, which is embedded with a chemical catalyst. When testing under normal pressures and temperatures, the photoelectrochemical system was able to turn PET plastic bottles and CO2 into several kinds of carbon-based fuels and other sought-after compounds.
  • The researchers hope that over time they will be able to use the machine to reuse, recycle, and transform more complex particles – eventually powering a fully solar recycling plant.