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Pioneering Swansea University project turns waste plastic into carbon nanotubes to transmit electricity

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The Welsh government is backing a cutting-edge science project at Swansea University that changes waste plastics into highly valuable compounds for the energy industries.

Deputy Minister for Housing and Local Government, Hannah Blythyn, will invest in a plastics upscaling project which has the potential to create highly-skilled jobs in Wales.

Scientists are extracting carbon atoms found in waste plastics and turning them into a nanotube format that can be used for the transmission of electricity.

They are producing plastic electric cables without the copper wire inside them, which can be used in residential and industrial construction.

Senior Lecturer, Dr Alvin Orbaek White, who was recruited to Wales from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology as part of the Wales Rising Star program as a Sêr Cymru II Fellow, is leading the research group at the Energy Safety Research Institute in Swansea University.

Dr Orbaek White has already developed an electrical wire made out of carbon nanotubes from waste plastics that are suitable for electricity and data transmission.

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His cables are transmitting Bach’s cello music, and were displayed at Swansea’s National Waterfront Museum and are currently being exhibited in the Material Library at Material ConneXion⁠ in New York.

Dr Orbek’s cables were displayed at Swansea’s National Waterfront Museum
(Image: Reading Tom from Reading / Wikimedia)

Dr Orbaek White’s vision is to advance global energy sustainability by producing long range electricity transmission materials from waste plastics.

Dr Orbaek White, whose first scientific publication elaborated on the conversion of black plastic material that he purchased in a local supermarket, said: “Converting plastics into useful materials such as carbon nanotubes can be done with a large variety of plastics. Our team has expanded the list of problem plastics to include PVdC – Polyvinyl chloride, polyesters and polypropylene to name a few.”

This is good news for employment and also for nature as waste plastics are clogging landfills and polluting oceans.

TrimTabs, a Swansea engineering firm creating technology solutions for positive global impact, is collaborating on the project and stated: “We are very excited about this research. This kind of fundamental science is needed in order to break out of the current recycling loop.”

Waste plastic
(Image: Polina Tankilevitch
/ Pexels.com)

Dr Orbaek White explained: “This grant will be used to test a large range of plastics that are problematic for traditional recycling technologies. The key philosophy is to seek a solution from within the problem.

“Plastics are a resource of carbon and hydrogen so the key step is in developing methods of chemistry and engineering to fashion the carbon and the hydrogen into more useful materials; in this case they make graphene, vapour grown carbon fibres and carbon nanotubes.

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“This capital grant will be used to test the electrical and physical properties of the carbon nanotube wires, to purchase testing equipment to ensure high quality materials are being produced from the plastics and to advance the ability for a closed-loop chemical recycling process. This grant is an indicator of the Welsh Government’s long-term strategy of plastic recycling in a circular manner.”

ESRI’s Director Professor Andrew Barron said: “I believe that this project is a unique approach to changing the conversation from plastic being a waste to plastic waste being a substitute for hydrocarbon resources.”

Associate Professor Desiree Plata from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology said: “Dr. Orbaek White’s research tackles two important problems facing the environment: a transition to more efficient, cleaner energy resources and providing a new life for waste plastics, keeping them out of land and sea. This project is an example of the future we all hope for- one where waste materials are redefined as a resource!”

“What a wonderful aspiration to take something that used to be thrown in the waste bin and instead turn it into a cousin of diamond with even more exceptional properties- graphitic nanomaterials!”

A major challenge facing recovery of plastics is that they often have to be downcycled; this new work promising a route to upcycling waste materials into value-added, advanced electronics. This is the dream of the circular economy, and the research proposed should help get us there.

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Carbon based nano materials are used in a variety of applications across the globe, but they are often sourced from fossil fuels. It is exciting to think that they may one day be sourced from waste plastics, giving those renewed life as advanced materials.”

The £270,000 grant will be provided from the Welsh Government’s Circular Economy Fund.

Lesley Griffiths MS

Lesley Griffiths, the Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs, said: ““Since the Industrial Revolution, Wales has often been the nursery to innovative and world-changing technologies – and we want to ensure that strong record continues as we look towards combating the impact of the climate emergency and continue the country on its path towards a circular economy.

“New technologies such as these will help us to reduce waste and keep resources in use for as long as possible. This is a key part of the action needed on climate change and also brings considerable economic opportunities as a part of the transition to a low carbon economy.”

(Lead image: Swansea University)


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Environment

Cadle Heath is alive with the sound of critters

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From endangered bats to moths, beetles and unusual critters, a Swansea suburb is giving locals an opportunity to discover exactly what’s living on their doorstep.

The Cadle Heath BioBlitz event funded by the Swansea Nature Partnership on Saturday, May 14, is a day packed with scavenger hunts, guided walks, opportunities to learn about the wildflowers, bugs birds, reptiles and mammals and help to gather important nature data by recording the unusual species living in this urban heath.

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This nature reserve is one of Swansea’s best kept secrets and stretches from behind Swansea Community Farm on Carmarthen Road, to popular shopping-destination, Pontarddulais Road Retail Park.

The event, which is organised by Swansea Community Farm, South East Wales Biodiversity Records Centre and Penderi Green Regeneration project, will take place between 10am and 3pm at the farm. Followed by a bat walk at 8.30pm, giving people the chance to listen for the elusive, red-listed, Lesser Horseshoe Bat in its natural habitat.

Kate McCabe from Pobl, leading on the Penderi Green Regeneration Project, said: “This is an exciting event for us. Cadle Heath is one of the best examples of urban heathland in the country and we are proud to have such a rich, exciting space for nature in the heart of Swansea’s Penderi region. The fact that the heath is home to a red-listed bat species is something we should be really proud of and something we should protect and celebrate.”

“Cadle is in such a highly populated part of Swansea that it is often overlooked, and people don’t often realise the hidden haven that exists for local wildlife. This family-friendly event will really bring the area to life, giving people a unique opportunity to really explore the area with the guidance of passionate scientists and nature experts.”

Katharine Aylett, from Swansea Community Farm, said: “We are proud to be hosting such an important and exciting event for the area, and to be partners of Pobl’s Penderi Green Regeneration Project. At Swansea Community Farm, we know the positive effect activities like this have on the community and local wildlife; it’s about raising awareness of the natural world and bringing people together, outdoors. 

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“The Penderi Green Regeneration Project itself, is vital to the area and is already having a clear impact on this part of Swansea. We’re looking forward to working with them on future events and initiatives.”

The Penderi Green Regeneration Project is an initiative to support local people in their desire to improve green spaces in their area which will help boost health and wellbeing. Through a series of physical and educational opportunities, the initiative will bring the wider neighbourhood together to regenerate green spaces in the Penderi area of Swansea.

Funded by UK Government, under the Community Renewal Fund (CRF), Pobl Group is able to deliver the Project with the help of key partners, Swansea Environment Centre, Room To Grow and the Conservation Team at Swansea Council.

For more information on the free event, visit: www.swanseacommunityfarm.org.uk

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Environment

First Minister celebrates 10 years of the Wales Coast Path

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The First Minister will celebrate the 10th Anniversary of the Wales Coast Path with a visit to meet volunteers and walkers.

A year long programme of events and activities celebrating the Wales Coast Path will take place throughout 2022, including walking festivals, virtual challenges and art installations.

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Since its opening in 2012, the Wales Coast Path has established itself as a beacon of our nation’s natural beauty.

The 870 mile path guides walkers along Wales’ picturesque coastline, weaving its way past a hundred beaches and sixteen castles.

First Minister Mark Drakeford said: “The coastal path is one of the crowning glories of Wales and one of the proudest achievements of devolution.

“I would like to thank all those involved in the management of the path. Particularly the staff and volunteers, who are out in all weathers, working hard to maintain the path to such high standards.

“If I had to choose my favourite stretch of the path, the portion between Pendine and Amroth would be a candidate: starting in my own home county of Carmarthenshire, and ending in Pembrokeshire. It may not be the most well-known part of the path, but it offers huge variety: some challenging climbs, outstanding variety of flowers, secret coves and plenty of historical interest”.

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The Welsh Government will build on the successes of the first ten years so that more people are able to enjoy the path, from more backgrounds, more easily, and with more benefits for local communities, businesses and the environment.

The Deputy Minister for Climate Change, Lee Waters MS, asked Huw Irranca-Davies, MS for Ogmore to undertake a review of the Wales Coast Path.

A small group, drawn from academia and the public, private and voluntary sectors was established to undertake the review.

The Group reflected on the key achievements over the last decade and identified how to maximise opportunities for the future.

Their report has been published on the Welsh Government website today (11 May).

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The review recognises the potential value and challenges of the Wales Coast Path. It contains 19 recommendations for the Welsh Government to consider when developing its future strategic approach to the path.

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Dyfed Powys Police

Man banned from driving for 12 months for fishing offence

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A man from Merthyr Tydfil who travelled to the River Loughor, near Llanelli to fish using a barbaric and illegal method, has been banned from driving for 12 months as part of his sentence.

Vu Quang Tien pleaded guilty to an illegal fishing charge and also to a charge of obstruction of a Natural Resources Wales (NRW) Fisheries Enforcement Officer on 26 April at Swansea Magistrates Court.

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Mr Tien and two other anglers were witnessed by NRW Fisheries Enforcement Officers deliberately using the illegal foul hooking method of fishing – also known as snatching – at the river Loughor on 15 August 2021. NRW officers attended the site after several reports of illegal fishing were made to NRW’s 24/7 incident call centre by concerned members of the community.

When approached and questioned by NRW officers, Mr Tien and his accomplices showed significant hostility and reluctance to share identification documents which eventually had to be extracted by use of reasonable force.

All of Mr Tien’s fishing tackle and fish, along with his associates’ fishing tackle was seized by NRW Officers at the time of the incident. The district judge on the day at Swansea Magistrates Court gave permission to NRW to confiscate these items permanently from each of them.

The District Judge disqualified Mr Tien from driving for 12 months due to seriousness of the incident, and the premeditated and deliberate action of travelling such a distance to commit the offence.

He was also ordered to pay a total of £2,334 in fines, NRW costs and a victim surcharge.

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Mark Thomas, Fisheries Enforcement Officer for NRW, said: “We would like to again thank Dyfed Powys Police, the local communities and also the law-abiding anglers in the area for their continued support in reporting these illegal fishing activities.

“Foul hooking is a truly barbaric form of fishing carried out by a small minority of anglers in Wales, who have no regard for fish welfare.

“NRW and the Police take these incidents seriously as do the courts.

“Hopefully, the small minority of anglers who may in future, think of using any illegal fishing methods will take heed of the heavy fines and driving ban in this case issued by the courts.”

(Lead image: Natural Resources Wales)

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