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By Dan Brouillette, Secretary of Energy

Plastics play an important role in our daily lives. They are in many of the products that keep us safe and healthy, as well as enhance our day-to-day convenience and efficiency. The manufacturing of plastic feedstock and plastic products also supports millions of American jobs.

However, managing plastic waste is a significant and growing global challenge. Millions of tons of plastic ends up in the world’s waterways and landfills.

And while this is a worldwide issue, American ingenuity will be the solution.

The Trump Administration and the Department of Energy (DOE) are dedicated to putting America first by tackling the waste plastic issue head on and advancing innovative technology that will not only break down existing plastics, but also help develop materials that are easier to recycle from the start.

At the center of that effort is DOE’s Plastics Innovation Challenge, a comprehensive program which draws on the extensive research capabilities within the DOE National Laboratories, universities, and industry. Launched in November 2019, the goal of this Challenge is to transform used plastic from a waste to a resource though advanced technologies deployed by American companies.

This Challenge will position the United States for global leadership in energy-efficient, advanced plastics recycling in several ways:

  • First, by developing new collection technologies to prevent plastics from entering the ocean in the first place;
  • Second, by developing new methods to deconstruct existing plastic waste and upcycle it into higher value products;
  • And finally, developing new plastics that are recyclable-by-design so that less plastic will need to be put in landfills in the future.

To advance the Challenge, in March 2020, DOE announced up to $25 million in funding for a new funding opportunity focused exclusively on developing next-generation plastics recycling technologies. Known as BOTTLE (Bio-Optimized Technologies to keep Thermoplastics out of Landfills and the Environment), this is the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy’s (EERE) first major funding opportunity announcement (FOA) dedicated to plastics recycling research and development. 

In addition to the BOTTLE funding opportunity, DOE also recently launched a BOTTLE Consortium. The Consortium, comprised of National Laboratory, academia, and industry partners, is focused on developing new plastics that are more efficiently recycled by improving strategies to break existing plastics into chemical building blocks that can be used to make higher-value products. The Consortium aims to not just develop new processes and plastic chemistries that are scalable and cost-effective, but to work with industry to catalyze a new upcycling supply chain for plastics.

Much of the BOTTLE Consortium’s work is managed by DOE’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s (NREL) in Golden, Colorado. NREL’s cutting-edge research and development capabilities will play a vital role in DOE’s effort to accelerate innovations in energy-efficient plastics recycling technologies, which will help provide the economic case for waste plastics reclamation and "close the loop" on plastics recycling.

The vital work at NREL and other DOE National Laboratories will undoubtedly assist the United States in solving the plastics pollution problem. In countless ways, NREL has already made significant breakthroughs in this field, such as their recent discovery of a method of plastics upcycling by transforming discarded products into new, high-value materials of better quality and environmental value. Check out more here.

DOE is proud to support innovative R&D on plastics recycling and plastics production, including the work at NREL, other DOE National Labs, and industry partners. This work will benefit Americans, and the world, for decades to come.

Plastics Innovation Challenge