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Los Alamos National Laboratory is part of a consortium developing a technology to rapidly break down discarded plastic at the molecular level into components that can be used to create other materials, such as nylon. The year-old research and development effort has been dubbed BOTTLE. The program was launched in November. Early research has led to identifying enzymes that can biodegrade plastic noticeably within several days, versus the several hundred years it normally would take for the material to decompose. Now the teams want to accelerate the decomposition, because breaking down the plastic in days is not nearly fast enough, lab scientist Taraka Dale said. “So what we’re shooting for is really observable changes and degradation in a matter of, ideally, hours,” said Dale, who leads the lab’s BOTTLE program. “So that you can, in theory, put this in an industrial process eventually.” The process would be fairly straightforward for users, she said. A vendor would grind up plastic trash and load it with the enzymes into a tank partially filled with water. The enzymes would break down and dissolve the plastic into the liquid. They would then transform the molecules into polymers for higher-grade products, such as carpets and clothing. Dale likened it to dismantling a brick house, and instead of simply reusing the bricks, you turn them into boards for a different purpose. The company could sell the raw material to a manufacturer, Dale said. This conversion of throwaway items and scraps into higher-quality goods, such as fabrics, would be “upcycling,” she said.

Eyes on China

Molybdenum prices plummeted in China this week. as of May 26, the mainstream transaction prices of molybdenum concentrate (45% Mo) in China stood at 2,580 yuan/dmt, down 130 yuan/dmt, or 4.8%, from the previous week. At the same time, according to some participants, due to the successive declines, the traded price of some bulk cargo transactions fell below 2,550 yuan/dmt. SMM believes that the main reasons for the continuous decline of domestic molybdenum prices are as follows. First of all, the pandemic situation in recent days has weakened the economy and the traders’ confidence. The participants generally hold a bearish outlook for the future market, thus suppressing the prices to some extent. Secondly, the steel market remains volatile. The inventory of stainless steel enterprises is increasing, meanwhile, they bore pressure from the dropping steel prices. As a result, steel mills cut their purchasing volume and prices of ferromolybdenum, which further forced the molybdenum concentrate prices to fall. Thirdly, the pandemic situation in Jiangsu, Zhejiang and Shanghai seriously has stricken the molybdenum metal consumption. According to SMM research, orders from molybdenum metal enterprises in these places have decreased significantly, which makes the molybdenum prices drop. As the economic recovery and the increase in the operating rates of steel mills still take some time, SMM believes that the domestic molybdenum prices are unlikely to improve in a short time. With the easing of the pandemic situation and the measures taken by the country to stimulate the economy, it is optimistic that the domestic molybdenum prices will rebound in mid-July.

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