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US provides millions in funding to plastic recycling innovators

UMass Lowell has one of the largest and most established plastics engineering programme in America.

The US Department of Energy is investing US$ 13.4 million (EUR 11.7 million) in next generation plastics technologies that reduce the energy consumption and carbon emissions of single-use plastics.

The funds will go towards seven R&D projects, led by both industry players and universities. These initiatives aim to convert plastic films into more valuable materials and design new plastics that are more recyclable and biodegradable. This investment supports the Biden Administration’s efforts to build a clean energy economy and ensure the US reaches net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. 

 R&D initiatives selected are:  

  • Braskem (US$ 2 million) will develop infinitely recyclable single-polymer chemistry bio-based multilayer films
  • Iowa State University of Science and Technology (US$ 2.5 million) will develop a closed loop upcycling of single-use plastic films to biodegradable polymers
  • Michigan State University (US$ 1.7 million) will create a redesign for inherently recyclable plastics
  • North Carolina Agricultural & Technical State University (US$ 2.4 million) will formulate the catalytic deconstruction of plasma treated single-use plastics to value-added chemicals and novel materials
  • TDA Research Inc. (US$ 1.6 million) will develop infinitely recyclable and biodegradable films for improved food packaging
  • University of Massachusetts Lowell (US$ 1.6 million) will integrate delamination and carbonisation processes for the upcycling of single-use, multi-layer plastic films
  • West Virginia University Research Corporation (1.5 million) will develop process intensified modular upcycling of plastic films to monomers by microwave catalysis

Hitting the trifecta

Single-use plastics, such as plastic bags, wraps, and films, are very energy-intensive to produce. In fact, plastic production accounts for more than 3% of total US energy consumption. At the same time, only about 10% of plastics are being recycled. Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm underlines that a lot of material is still being “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.

‘Single-use plastics generate large amounts of carbon pollution when produced, are hard to recycle, and dirty our nation’s beaches, parks and neighbourhoods,’ Granholm says. ‘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.’

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