Swansea University researchers are investigating the possibility of using sunlight to convert hazardous medical waste into clean hydrogen fuel.
The team are developing a novel process called photoreforming which uses sunlight to simultaneously kill viruses and convert non-recyclable waste into clean hydrogen fuel.
The process works by using nanostructured semiconductors to drive the degradation of waste and pathogens with sunlight.
Recently boosted by £47,000 of Welsh Government funding, the project comes at a time when the Covid-19 pandemic is creating vast amounts of additional waste, such as masks and other protective equipment.
“Since the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, we have witnessed a global surge in single-use medical waste and PPE polluting the environment such as disposable face masks littering beaches,” said Dr Moritz Kuehnel, Project Lead and Senior Lecturer in Chemistry at Swansea University.
“The NHS already spends more than £700m every year on waste disposal, even before Covid waste.”
“Applying our technology to reprocess just 1% of this waste would save millions and mitigate pollution at the same time.”
This new research builds on the team’s previous work on generating hydrogen from waste plastics.
Epidemiology experts from India’s King Institute of Preventive Medicine & Research and Thiruvalluvar University in Wales are also involved in the project.
They are helping examine the photocatalysts’ antiviral activity against different pathogens, including SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.
The nanomaterials group at Indian Institute of Technology Mandi are also partners in the project.