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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

China’s copper cathode output stood at 825,900 mt in November, up 4.6% month on month and 0.5% year on year The power rationing across China was basically ended in November. The smelters in Shandong and Guangxi fully resumed the production from power rationing. The production in Jiangsu and Zhejiang were slightly restricted in early November, but recovered rapidly. The total copper cathode output in November basically recovered to the level before the power rationing. Jiangxi Copper was under maintenance, but it had sufficient stocks of blister copper. The two smelters in Guangxi basically resumed the production from maintenance. The output reduction was basically in accordance with the market expectations. As for the raw materials, China’s imports of blister copper continued to stand low due the the riots in Africa, the shortage of containers at ports, and the global supply chain problems. Some smelters in the coastal provinces could not produce at full capacities for lack of blister copper. The major ports in north China were mostly closed under COVID-19 related control and prevention. The smelters in north-west China could not increase the use of copper cathode, which also dragged down the copper cathode output. The sulphuric acid prices fell rapidly in the Yangtze River Basin of central China, so the smelters were less willing to produce, and the total output of copper cathode in November could not rally to the level in Q2. The shortage of blister copper and logistic problems at major northern ports will not be alleviated significantly in December, but the production of refined copper will be less affected. Some smelters will rush to produce at the end of the year for the annual output goal, and most smelters will complete the maintenance. The output is expected to return to more than 850,000 mt in December.

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