The US Department of Energy earmarked $11.6 million for a new high-impact R&D effort called the Center for Plastics Innovation (CPI). They will develop new transformative plastic recycling technology, which would be a giant step up from good old fashioned shredding and melting.
The new Innovation Center will be based at the University of Delaware, which has a head start in the chemistry field thanks in part to a long running relationship with the firm DuPont.
CPI has carved out tasks for itself that are more difficult than most. Instead of focusing on easy-to-recycle PET plastic, the research will prioritize tricky plastics like
- high-density polyethylene (commonly used for for milk containers as well as motor oil, shampoo and the like),
- low-density polyethylene (plastic bags and baggies),
- polystyrene (aka Styrofoam),
- and the acrylic PMMA, best known for its use in making Plexiglass.
The team will apply different strategies to break down this waste — using chemical catalysts and selective enzymes — to “de-polymerize the polymers” and recover pure material for making high-value fuels and lubricants at low temperature.
Other catalytic strategies will be explored to transform the recovered materials by changing their electronic properties or by incorporating a “stealth catalyst,” for example, that would activate only on demand.
Worldwide, more than 350 million tons of plastics were produced in 2018 alone. Only 12% of this plastic waste is reused or recycled, according to an industry report.
Current recycling strategies fall far short in recovering material that is as high in quality as the material you started with — a major hurdle the CPI will be working to overcome.
Those oil and gas stakeholders better act now if they want to keep a slice of the petrochemical pie.
Reference- Clean Technica, University of Delaware PR, Delaware Times