The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has awarded $13.4 million to seven projects for research and development of novel recycling processes and technologies that that will cut plastic waste and reduce the energy consumption and carbon emissions of single-use plastics at every stage of their lifecycle.  

Single-use plastics – plastic bags, wraps, and films – are incredibly energy-intensive to make. In fact, plastic production accounts for more than 3% of total U.S. energy consumption and uses approximately the same amount of oil around the world as the aviation industry. Yet despite their high embodied energy use, many of these materials follow a linear supply chain that ends abruptly in our landfills or our environment. This investment in plastics recycling technologies will help to break this linear model by directing plastics and their valuable building blocks back into the economy.   

“The detrimental impact of single-use plastics on our environment is unignorable,” said Secretary of Energy Jennifer M. Granholm. “These materials are among the most challenging plastics to recycle, with far too many winding up in our landfills or being downgraded into less valuable products. By capturing the value of single-use plastics, these projects will reduce carbon emissions across the industry and help the U.S. transition to an economically competitive, circular economy.”   

These seven 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.  
 
Projects selected for negotiation were chosen from the following areas:  

  • Novel Approaches to Recycling and Upcycling Films: Plastic films pose unique technical and economic challenges to recycling compared to similar materials in other form factors. Applications were sought to develop novel degradation, upcycling, and/or recycling pathways for post-consumer films that are energy efficient, cost effective, and that reduce lifecycle emissions. 
     
  • Redesign of Multi-layer Films for Infinite Recyclability or Biodegradability: This topic aimed to identify and develop new materials that are infinitely recyclable or biodegradable and meet all the required properties to replace multi-layered films. This increases multi-layered films’ reusability, extending product lives, and keeping plastic films out of landfills and the environment.  

The following projects were selected:

Topic Area #

Selectee

Project Title

Federal Cost Share

1

 

Iowa State University of Science and Technology

A Closed Loop Upcycling of Single-Use Plastic Films to Biodegradable Polymers

$2,500,000

1

University of Massachusetts Lowell

Integrated Chemolytic Delamination and Plasma Carbonization for the Upcycling of Single-Use Multi-layer Plastic Films

$1,600,276

1

North Carolina Agricultural & Technical State University

Catalytic Deconstruction of Plasma treated Single-Use Plastics to Value-added Chemicals and Novel Materials

$2,499,994

1

West Virginia University Research Corporation

Process Intensified Modular Upcycling of Plastic Films to Monomers by Microwave Catalysis

$1,500,001

2

Michigan State University

All-Polyester Multilayer Plastics (All Polyester MLFs): A Redesign for Inherently Recyclable Plastics

$1,705,811

2

Braskem

Development of Infinitely Recyclable Single-Polymer Chemistry Bio-Based Multilayer Films Using Ethylene/Carbon Monoxide Copolymers

$2,000,000

2

TDA Research Inc.

Infinitely Recyclable and Biodegradable Films for Improved Food Packaging

$1,609,056

 

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.