This Process Uses Sunlight to Turn Hazardous Medical Waste into Clean Hydrogen Fuel

A joint team of researchers from India and Wales, led by Swansea University researchers, said they were developing a  new process to convert hazardous medical waste into clean hydrogen fuel.

The researchers stated the National Health Service of the United Kingdom spends £700 million (~$ 922.08 million) annually for disposing of medical waste. Besides that, a vast amount of additional medical waste, including masks and other protective equipment, is being created due to the COVID-19 pandemic, they added.

The researchers are developing a process called photoreforming, which utilizes sunlight to kill viruses and turn non-recyclable waste into clean hydrogen fuel simultaneously. Also, photoreforming does not generate greenhouse gases and works at ambient temperature.

The researchers used nanostructured semiconductors to drive the degradation of waste and pathogens with sunlight. The process also produces hydrogen fuel cell and generates organic feedstock for the chemical industry, they added.


“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. Applying our technology to reprocess just 1% of this waste would save millions and mitigate pollution at the same time,” said lead researcher Moritz Kuehnel.

The team of researchers includes epidemiology experts from India’s King Institute of Preventive Medicine & Research and Thiruvalluvar University. The epidemiology experts help examine the photocatalysts’ antiviral activity against various pathogens, including SARS-CoV-2, which causes the COVID-19.

“The simplicity and low cost of photoreforming make it easier to implement in countries that do not have an established recycling system,” said co-researcher Sudhagar Pitchaimuthu.

According to its press statement, the Welsh Government recently awarded funding worth £47,000 (~$ 62,156) for the project.

The new research is built on the team’s previous work on generating hydrogen from waste plastic. The researchers are looking for industry partners to commercialize their newly developed technology.

In September 2020, a research team from Newcastle University in New South Wales, Australia, devised a system that uses solar power to conduct electrolysis on water harvested from air to create hydrogen, a low-cost zero-emission fuel.

Earlier this year, researchers at Rutgers University discovered a new process that could significantly reduce the cost of producing biofuels like ethanol from plant waste.