The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) today announced $13.4 million in funding for next-generation plastics technologies that reduce the energy consumption and carbon emissions of single-use plastics. The seven selected research and development (R&D) projects — led by industry and universities — will convert plastic films into more valuable materials and design new plastics that are more recyclable and biodegradable. This investment advances DOE’s work to address the challenges of plastic waste recycling and supports the Biden Administration’s efforts to build a clean energy economy and ensure the U.S. reaches net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.
“Single-use plastics generate large amounts of carbon pollution when produced, are hard to recycle, and dirty our nation’s beaches, parks and neighborhoods,” said Secretary of Energy Jennifer M. Granholm. “By advancing technologies that repurpose single-use plastics and make the materials biodegradable, we can hit a trifecta of reduced plastic waste, fewer emissions from the plastics industry, and an influx of clean manufacturing jobs for American workers.”
Single-use plastics, such as plastic bags, wraps, and films, are incredibly energy-intensive to produce. In fact, plastic production accounts for more than 3% of total U.S. energy consumption. Despite their high embodied energy use, many of these materials end up in our landfills or our environment. Yet, less than 10% of plastics are currently recycled, most of which are “downcycled,” or repurposed into low-value products.
The seven selected projects will work to develop affordable solutions for “upcycling,” or transforming plastic films into more valuable materials, and to design new plastics that are more recyclable and biodegradable – innovating both the processes of single-use plastics recycling, and the single-use plastics themselves.
- Braskem (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania) will develop infinitely recyclable single-polymer chemistry bio-based multilayer films. (Award Amount: $2,000,000)
- Iowa State University of Science and Technology (Ames, Iowa) will develop a closed loop upcycling of single-use plastic films to biodegradable polymers. (Award Amount: $2,500,000)
- Michigan State University (East Lansing, Michigan) will create a redesign for inherently recyclable plastics. (Award Amount: $1,705,811)
- North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University (Greensboro, North Carolina) will formulate the catalytic deconstruction of plasma treated single-use plastics to value-added chemicals and novel materials. (Award Amount: $2,499,994)
- TDA Research Inc. (Wheat Ridge, Colorado) will develop infinitely recyclable and biodegradable films for improved food packaging. (Award Amount: $1,609,056)
- University of Massachusetts Lowell (Lowell, Massachusetts) will integrate delamination and carbonization processes for the upcycling of single-use, multilayer plastic films. (Award Amount: $1,600,276)
- West Virginia University Research Corporation (Morgantown, West Virginia) will develop process intensified modular upcycling of plastic films to monomers by microwave catalysis. (Award Amount: $1,500,001)
“The way we currently produce and dispose of single-use plastics is extremely energy-intensive and detrimental to our environment. I am thrilled the Department of Energy will fund this innovative project from Colorado's TDA Research, which will help reduce waste and cut greenhouse gas pollution to bring us closer to meeting our climate goals,” said U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet (CO).
“Today’s announcement underscores the importance of the groundbreaking research conducted by WVU’s world-class students and faculty and the ongoing partnership with the U.S. Department of Energy. This funding will help advance technologies to reduce emissions from plastic production and enhance our recycling capabilities – innovative solutions critical to lowering our carbon footprint and improving the health and quality of our environment. I look forward to seeing the positive impacts of this project, and I will continue to advocate for funding to support research opportunities across the Mountain State,” said U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin (WV), chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
“I’m glad UMass Lowell is being awarded this grant from the Department of Energy to develop new ways to recycle single-use plastics. I cannot wait to see what solutions they come up with to create a more sustainable future,” said U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (MA).
“Single-use plastics are everywhere. They are used to make our plastic coffee cups, takeout containers, straws, and grocery bags. Yet despite their ubiquity, they are among the most difficult kinds of plastic to recycle. Combating the plastic pollution crisis will require us to not only reduce our use of single-plastics, but also develop the technology necessary to properly recycle them. I am proud that the University of Massachusetts Lowell is working on innovative recycling technology to help address this serious problem and that the Biden administration is dedicating resources passed by Congress to this critical issue,” said U.S. Sen. Ed Markey (MA).
“I’m proud that Michigan’s academic and scientific communities continue to lead the world in research and cutting-edge innovation that has been invaluable in the fight to address climate change. Michigan State University is a world-class institution – and I’m excited they will continue to spearhead efforts to reduce plastic waste and create more sustainable environments, making our communities even better places to work, live, and raise a family,” said U.S Sen. Gary Peters (MI).
“I congratulate TDA Research Inc. out of Wheat Ridge, Colorado, for innovating the way we use and recycle our food packaging. Single-use plastics are not only energy-intensive to make, they are difficult to recycle and reuse. TDA’s work will help make this packaging into a valuable, reusable product and will make it biodegradable so it doesn’t harm the environment. It is innovation like this that will help us in the fight against climate change,” said U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter (CO-07).
This funding opportunity builds on DOE investments, including the Bio-Optimized Technologies to keep Thermoplastics out of Landfills and the Environment (BOTTLE) Consortium and the Reducing EMbodied energy And Decreasing Emissions (REMADE) Institute.
DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy’s Advanced Manufacturing Office and Bioenergy Technologies Office oversee these investments. DOE’s Office of Science, Office of Fossil Energy and Carbon Management and ARPA-e also play key roles in supporting plastic research and development efforts.