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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

This is a roundup of global macroeconomic news last night and what is expected today. The U.S. dollar was nearly unchanged against the euro and yen on Tuesday after strong gains the day before, with investors trying to position for next week’s expected interest rate hike from the U.S. Federal Reserve. The Australian dollar were down slightly. It rose earlier after the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) raised rates for the eighth time in as many months. Data Monday showing that U.S. services industry activity unexpectedly picked up in November prompted speculation the Fed may lift interest rates more than recently projected. Traders currently expect a half-point hike from the Fed next week and they expect a terminal rate of just above 5% in May. The U.S. dollar index, which measures the currency against six major peers, remains up roughly 10% for the year so far. It was last up 0.1% on Tuesday. The euro was flat against the dollar at $1.0492, while the dollar was down 0.1% against the Japanese yen. Stock futures were little changed Tuesday night. Futures tied to the Dow Jones Industrial Average were up 36 points, or 0.1% while S&P 500 futures and Nasdaq 100 futures were each up 0.1%. In regular trading the Dow fell more than 350 points, or 1.03%. The S&P 500 and Nasdaq Composite lost 1.4% and 2%, respectively. The moves came as investors lost hope that the Federal Reserve will be able to engineer a soft landing. Instead, concerns swirled around the state of the economy and whether an economic downturn is approaching. Global oil prices slid below $80 per barrel for the first time since January on Tuesday, extending a downward trend as growing concerns about global demand offset any bullish effects from an EU-led price cap on Russian oil sales. Brent crude futures settled down 4.03%, to $79.35 a barrel, their lowest since Jan. 4. West Texas Intermediate crude (WTI) fell 3.48%, to $74.26 after hitting its lowest level this year. Gold firmed slightly on Tuesday as the dollar gave up some of its recent gains and U.S. Treasury yields retreated, with traders awaiting further direction from the Federal Reserve’s interest rate hike strategy. Spot gold rose 0.1% to $1,769.42 per ounce, while moves remained fairly contained. U.S. gold futures settled up 0.1% at $1,782.4. European markets closed lower on Tuesday, with global sentiment subdued this week as investors weigh future policy from global central banks. The pan-European Stoxx 600 closed down 0.6%, with most sectors and major bourses finishing in the red.

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