A first-of-its-kind catalyst mimics natural processes to break down plastic and produce valuable new products

Read the full story from Ames Laboratory.

While plastics recycling is not new science, current processes don’t make it economically worthwhile– waste plastics get “down-cycled” into lower grade, less useful material. It’s a challenge that continues to be an obstacle in tackling a growing global pollution crisis in single use plastics.

A multi-institutional team of scientists led by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Ames Laboratory has developed a first-of-its-kind catalyst that is able to process polyolefin plastics such as polyethylene and polypropylene, types of polymers widely used in things like plastic grocery bags, milk jugs, shampoo bottles, toys, and food containers. The process results in uniform, high-quality components that can be used to produce fuels, solvents, and lubricating oils, products that have high value and could potentially turn these and other used plastics into an untapped resource.

Associated journal article: Tennakoon, A., Wu, X., Paterson, A.L. et al. (2020). “Catalytic upcycling of high-density polyethylene via a processive mechanism.” Nature Catalysis. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41929-020-00519-4

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