Pyrolysis Seen as Possible Solution for Disposal of Face Masks

Researchers discuss turning discarded COVID masks into energy producing fuel

Korean scientists have demonstrated that used COVID surgical masks are able to be converted into chemicals by using a revolutionary pyrolysis thermal decomposition process.

This international team, led by Dr. Xiangzhou Yuan and Professor Yong Sik Ok is located primarily in South Korea, and receives support from the University of Jinan and the National University of Singapore, as well as Tsinghua University.

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Bioresource Technology is a periodical where the findings have been published, and states that the pyrolysis of polypropylene (the main material in surgical masks) may be converted into fuel. They do however, contain some unwanted fillers that could affect their behavior.

They have analyzed the pyrolysis conditions, and ran several experiments at different temperatures and heating rates. One set of pyrolysis conditions provided an oxygen-deficient liquid oil which had a high heating value similar to gas and diesel fuel. This showed that surgical masks can in fact be converted into a fuel that can burn properly and generate electricity. The ability to convert waste into something useful however does not necessarily make it a good idea however. The researchers are currently assessing the environmental impacts of the entire process.

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The results of converting COVID masks into usably energy is promising, and may offer better performance than most conventional medical waste management disposal. Some benefits are lower CO2 emissions, less phosphorous emissions and reduced ecotoxicity and shows a great deal of promise.

Discovering new ways to turn COVID masks into useable energy can help us achieve sustainable waste-to-energy conversion in the future, according to Professor Ok. The promising results of this study may help us protect Earth’s delicate ecosystems, and achieve many several of the worlds future sustainable development goals.