Penn State wins $3.4 million contract to target plastic waste

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pennsylvania — Penn State has won a $3.4 million contract from the REMADE Institute, a public-private partnership established by the United States Department of Energy, to fund research targeting inefficient methods currently used to process and recycle mixed plastic waste. The project is one of 22 projects recently funded by REMADE. The project will receive $1.7 million in federal funds and an additional $1.7 million in cost-sharing by project partners.

A global analysis of all mass-produced plastics revealed that a total of 8.3 billion metric tons of virgin plastics are estimated to be generated worldwide to date. In 2015, 79% of plastic waste, which contains many dangerous chemicals, accumulates in landfills or natural environments, of which about 12% is incinerated and only 9% is recycled.

Upcycling is a recycling process in which the resulting product has a higher value than the original item that was thrown away. The research team led by Hilal Ezgi Toraman, assistant professor of energy engineering and chemical engineering, is developing a flexible two-step chemical recycling process that breaks down multiple types of plastic and then converts them into valuable chemicals that can be used to create new products.

With funding “Chemical Recycling of Mixed PET/Polyolefin Streams by Sequential Pyrolysis and Catalytic Enhancement”, the interdisciplinary team will simultaneously assess the financial and environmental viability of introducing the proposed process from laboratory to industrial scale based on integrated techno-economic technology. life cycle analysis and assessment tools.

“Current business processes operate below the scale needed or only apply to single plastic types, not mixed plastics,” said Toraman, who also holds the Virginia S. and Philip L Fellowship. Walker Jr. of the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences. . “When you consider the amount of plastic, developing a process that minimizes the steps required for commercial implementation by accepting mixed and dynamic plastic inputs – there is immense potential to significantly affect the economy and the ‘environment of the United States.’

The first step in the development of the new recycling process relies on a better mechanistic understanding of how dynamic mixtures of plastic waste break down and interact in chemical recycling processes. Building on previous work by Toraman, the decomposition of plastic waste will be triggered by high temperatures in micro-pyrolysis facilities. The study focuses on two of the most common plastics, polypropylene (PP) and polyethylene terephthalate (PET) found in multi-layer packaging, carpet residue and films.

In the proposed two-step process, the second step is to convert the pyrolysis products of the PET, PP mixture using low-cost stable catalysts into valuable chemicals such as benzene, toluene, xylene and olefins .

Toraman noted that several plastic recycling approaches for mixed plastics have failed due to the inability to handle compositional complexity. However, the team’s modular approach will aim to provide the flexibility needed to be successful and can even be optimized through kinetic reaction models and simulations.

“This two-step process has the potential to revolutionize plastic recycling,” Toraman said. “System designs can then be adapted to a wide range of plastic waste streams, and predictive design decisions can be implemented to reduce energy demand and greenhouse gas emissions.”

REMADE has awarded a total of approximately $32.6 million in new technology research to 22 projects, starting with its fourth request for proposals aimed at accelerating the nation’s transition from the current linear “make-consume” economy. -throw” to a more sustainable circular economy. economy based on reuse, recycling, upcycle.

“Our mission is to reduce energy consumption and emissions, while increasing the competitiveness of manufacturing in the United States,” said Nabil Nasr, CEO of REMADE.

Toraman hopes this research will overcome the critical barrier of labor-intensive sorting and handling practices and advance the environmental responsibility mission of the John and Willie family’s Department of Energy and Mineral Engineering. Leone in the recovery, treatment and use of earth’s resources.

REMADE was created by the U.S. Department of Energy in 2017 with member organizations from industry, universities, national laboratories, trade associations, and nonprofit entities to accelerate the United States’ transition to a circular economy.

Other team members include Penn State professors: Konstantinos Alexopoulos, assistant professor of chemical engineering; Michael Janik, associate dean of the department and professor of chemical engineering; Prasenjit Mitra, Associate Dean and Professor of Information Science and Technology; Robert Rioux, Friedrich G. Helfferich Professor of Chemical Engineering; and Rui Shi, assistant professor of chemical engineering. From Northwestern University, Linda Broadbelt, associate dean and professor of chemical and biological engineering is also on the team.

Other contributors to this project include Siemans Process Systems Enterprises and Shaw Industries Group Inc.

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