Plastics are essential to modern life as we know it. The increasing use of plastics has helped enable a modern global economy, higher living standards, and better health. Moreover, the manufacturing of plastic feedstock and plastic products are thriving industries that support millions of American jobs.

Despite these enormous economic benefits, the disposal of used plastics is a significant and growing challenge. At the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), we invest in research and development to tackle America’s energy and environmental challenges. This is why last year, DOE launched the Plastics Innovation Challenge, a comprehensive strategy to develop advanced plastics recycling technologies and manufacture new plastics that are recyclable-by-design.

The Plastics Innovation Challenge is based on the premise that while waste plastic is largely not of America’s creation, DOE believes American ingenuity will be a key part of the solution. We don’t need to choose between growing our economy and caring for the environment—by focusing on technological innovation, we can do both.

The momentum of the Plastics Innovation Challenge continues into the new fiscal year, as today Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette announced $28 million for 12 projects under the BOTTLE: Bio-Optimized Technologies to Keep Thermoplastics out of Landfills and the Environment funding opportunity. Funded by EERE’s Bioenergy Technologies Office and Advanced Manufacturing Office, these projects are led by universities, industry partners, and National Laboratories who are all focused on developing innovative, energy-efficient plastics recycling technologies.

Projects selected under BOTTLE include work to develop new plastics with improved performance attributes that can be cost-effectively recycled or biodegrade completely in the environment or in compost facilities. Other projects will focus on developing energy-efficient recycling technologies (mechanical, chemical, or biological) that are capable of breaking down plastic streams into intermediates. These intermediates could then be upgraded into higher-value products, a concept known as “upcycling.” Selectees will collaborate with the BOTTLE Consortium, launched by DOE last year as a partnership between multiple DOE National Laboratories, universities, and industry.

In addition to the BOTTLE announcement, in the last year DOE has made substantial progress to advance the goals of the Plastics Innovation Challenge. Highlights include:

  • DOE signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the American Chemistry Council to enhance innovation in energy efficient plastics recycling and reduce waste through enhanced recovery of post-use plastics. The MOU serves as a framework for DOE and ACC to collaborate on the development of innovative plastics recycling technologies and strengthen the domestic plastics supply chain.
  • DOE hosted a workshop for commercial plastics producers, bio-based plastics innovators, and representatives from waste-management facilities to identify technology solutions for reducing plastic waste. The feedback from these industry experts is helping DOE ensure that our R&D addresses the most challenging barriers to successful technology development.
  • DOE launched the BOTTLE Consortium, an initiative led by experts from the National Laboratories and academia with experience in process development and integration, chemical catalysis, biocatalysis, material science, separations, modeling, economic analysis, and sustainability assessment. The Consortium uses the unique, world-class capabilities at the National Laboratories and partner institutions to conduct high-impact research that promises to improve the way we recycle.
  • DOE announced approximately $35 million through the REMADE Institute to support research and development that will enable U.S. manufacturers to increase the recovery, recycling, reuse, and remanufacturing of plastics, metals, electronic waste, and fibers.
  • DOE broke ground on a Research and Innovation Laboratory (RAIL) at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory for researchers investigating plastics upcycling, next-generation batteries, and advanced energy materials.

I look forward to seeing the great work of the BOTTLE selectees and all of our partners under the Plastics Innovation Challenge. At DOE, we are committed to collaborating across the public and private sectors to build a strong, domestic plastics upcycling supply chain and support the development of innovative technologies deployed by American companies. For more information on the Plastics Innovation Challenge, click here.

Alex Fitzsimmons
Alex Fitzsimmons, the former Deputy Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency in the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.
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