Research Targets Sorting Robots And Separating Chemicals To Improve Plastic Recycling

First off, the robots can help sort the plastic that’s set aside for recycling. Second, the chemicals can help break down the plastics into valuable raw materials. The University at Buffalo in New York has been awarded $2 million from the National Science Foundation to make it happen.

The four-year grant from the foundation’s Emerging Frontiers in Research and Innovation program was announced in late 2020; researchers are now building a robotic system that will “learn” to sort plastic.

They hope to have a prototype by October 2021, says Paschalis Alexandridis, University at Buffalo distinguished professor in the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering, who is leading the effort.

The robotic system now under development.

“We will use a regular camera mounted on the sorting system to identify the plastic object it is seeing, and use that information to look up a database that tells us what type of plastic was used in manufacturing that item,” Alexandridis says.

Then they’ll build a new multimodal eye-safe sensor to better detect the type of plastic.

“The sensor will utilize thermal and acoustic signals to classify in real-time types of plastics using modern machine learning methods informed by a comprehensive database of signatures of different types of plastics …” he adds. A prototype for that customer center is likely in 2022 or 2023.

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