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JOURNAL ARTICLE

Morphological characteristics of waste polyethylene/polypropylene plastics during pyrolysis and representative morphological signal characterizing pyrolysis stages

H Wang, D Chen, G Yuan, X Ma, X Dai
Waste Management 2013, 33 (2): 327-39
23177018
In this work, the morphological characteristics of waste polyethylene (PE)/polypropylene (PP) plastics during their pyrolysis process were investigated, and based on their basic image changing patterns representative morphological signals describing the pyrolysis stages were obtained. PE and PP granules and films were used as typical plastics for testing, and influence of impurities was also investigated. During pyrolysis experiments, photographs of the testing samples were taken sequentially with a high-speed infrared camera, and the quantitative parameters that describe the morphological characteristics of these photographs were explored using the "Image Pro Plus (v6.3)" digital image processing software. The experimental results showed that plastics pyrolysis involved four stages: melting, two stages of decomposition which are characterized with bubble formation caused by volatile evaporating, and ash deposition; and each stage was characterized with its own phase changing behaviors and morphological features. Two stages of decomposition are the key step of pyrolysis since they took up half or more of the reaction time; melting step consumed another half of reaction time in experiments when raw materials were heated up from ambient temperatures; and coke-like deposition appeared as a result of decomposition completion. Two morphological signals defined from digital image processing, namely, pixel area of the interested reaction region and bubble ratio (BR) caused by volatile evaporating were found to change regularly with pyrolysis stages. In particular, for all experimental scenarios with plastics films and granules, the BR curves always exhibited a slowly drop as melting started and then a sharp increase followed by a deep decrease corresponding to the first stage of intense decomposition, afterwards a second increase - drop section corresponding to the second stage of decomposition appeared. As ash deposition happened, the BR dropped to zero or very low values. When impurities were involved, the shape of BR curves showed that intense decomposition started earlier but morphological characteristics remained the same. In addition, compared to parameters such as pressure, the BR reflects reaction stages better and its change with pyrolysis process of PE/PP plastics with or without impurities was more intrinsically process correlated; therefore it can be adopted as a signal for pyrolysis process characterization, as well as offering guide to process improvement and reactor design.

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