Bergeson & Campbell, P.C. (B&C®) is a Washington, D.C., law firm providing biobased and renewable chemical product stakeholders unparalleled experience, judgment, and excellence in bringing innovative products to market.

By Lynn L. Bergeson 

The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) posted a WatchBlog item entitled “Can Chemical Recycling Reduce Plastic Pollution?” on October 5, 2021. The item looks at GAO’s September 2021 Science & Tech Spotlight: Advanced Plastic Recycling. According to GAO, chemical recycling could reduce the amount of plastic that ends up in landfills, potentially reducing the release of chemicals into the environment. Chemical recycling can produce high-quality raw materials, decreasing the demand for fossil fuels and other natural resources. GAO states that the obstacles to using chemical recycling include process and technology challenges, high startup and operating costs, and limited incentives for recycling innovation and investment. GAO notes that new plastics produced from fossil fuels are typically cheaper to produce than recycled plastics, in part due to transportation costs and limited recycling infrastructure, making recycled plastics less marketable. Key questions for policymakers include:

What steps could the federal government, states, and other stakeholders take to further incentivize chemical recycling rather than disposal? What are the potential benefits and challenges of these approaches?

What steps could policymakers take to support a transition toward a circular economy -- one in which products are not disposed of but are recycled for reuse including innovation -- and investment in manufacturing and recycling capacity?

What might policymakers do to promote advanced recycling technologies while also reducing the hazards associated with existing plastic production and recycling methods?

One issue that GAO fails to consider is the regulatory status of depolymerized plastic. Furthermore, making a polymer by depolymerizing plastic is, according to the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) nomenclature rules, different than the virgin polymer. These nomenclature complications will likely be a barrier to the commercialization of the closed-loop chemical recycling of plastics.


 

By Lynn L. Bergeson
 
On June 1, 2021, the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) announced that its scientists have developed a novel solvent that results in a more efficient process to recover valuable materials from used lithium-ion batteries. According to ORNL’s press release, this new method supports a stable domestic supply chain for new batteries and keeps old ones out of landfills.
 
Currently, the recycling process of batteries involves smelting, which is an expensive, energy-intensive process that releases toxic gas. This new process developed by ORNL, however, recovers cathode materials and aluminum foils from lithium-ion batteries using a less hazardous solvent. It is a wet chemical process that uses triethyl phosphate to dissolve the binder material that adheres cathodes to metal foil. This process results in efficient recovery of cobalt-based cathodes and graphite, among other valuable materials, such as copper foils, that can be reused in new batteries. ORNL’s Ilias Belharouak stated that, in addition to repurposing materials, the new process reduces toxic exposure for workers. The full publication of ORNL’s study is available here.


 

By Lynn L. Bergeson and Ligia Duarte Botelho, M.A.

On May 18, 2021, the European Parliament (EP) issued a press release announcing the Just Transition Fund (JTF) to assist European Union (EU) countries to address climate neutrality goals. The Just Transition Fund is composed of €7.5 billion from the European Commission’s (EC) long-term EU budget under the 2021-2027 Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) and €10 billion from the EU recovery plan, NextGenerationEU. According to the press release, eligible projects must focus on economic diversification, reconversion, or job creation, or they must contribute to the transition into a sustainable and circular European economy. JTF will finance:

  • Job seeking assistance, upskilling, and reskilling to help workers as Europe shifts to a climate-neutral economy;
  • Micro-enterprises;
  • Business incubators;
  • Universities;
  • Public research institutions; and
  • Investments in new energy technologies, energy efficiency, and sustainable local mobility.

A “Green Rewarding Mechanism” could be introduced to the JTF for distribution of additional funding to member states if the EP decides to increase the fund’s resources after December 31, 2024. The goal is for the €7.5 billion JTF funds to generate between €30 and €50 billion from investments. Member states that succeed in reducing industrial greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions will receive additional funding.
 
Access to JTF for member states is conditional upon adoption of national-level commitments to achieve climate neutrality by 2050. Before adoption of such commitments, member states will be entitled to only 50 percent of their national allocations. The portion of the investments provided by EC is set at a maximum of 85 percent for less developed regions, 70 percent for transitional regions, and 50 percent for more developed regions.
 
JTF is part of the European Green Deal Just Transition Mechanism (JTM) initiative, which provides targeted support to regions and sectors in the EU that are most affected by the transition into a green economy. JTM aims to help EU member countries by also:

  • Supporting the transition to low-carbon and climate-resilient activities;
  • Creating new jobs in the green economy;
  • Investing in public and sustainable transport;
  • Providing technical assistance;
  • Investing in renewable energy sources;
  • Improving digital connectivity;
  • Providing affordable loans to local public authorities; and
  • Improving energy infrastructure, district heating, and transportation networks.

In support of JTM, Frans Timmermans, Executive Vice President of EC stated that “[w]e must show solidarity with the most affected regions in Europe, such as the coal mining regions and others, to make sure the [European] Green Deal gets everyone’s full support and has a chance to become a reality.”


 

By Lynn L. Bergeson

On May 12, 2021, from 3:30 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. (EDT), the European Commission (EC) Helpdesk will host a webinar on appropriate Intellectual Property (IP) rights for biotechnology inventions.  The 60-minute webinar will provide an overview of:

  • Relevant IP rights;
  • Product development IP context;
  • IP specifics in biotechnology;
  • IP portfolio development; and
  • IP portfolio management.

The webinar is free of charge, but registration is required.  Additional information is available here.


 

By Lynn L. Bergeson

On April 28, 2021, DOE issued a $22.5 million request for proposals (RFP) for projects that support recovery, recycling, and reuse of material waste generated by the manufacturing sector.  DOE EERE stated that “[p]rojects funded through this solicitation will develop technologies that reduce embodied energy and carbon emissions associated with the production and consumption of metals, polymers, fibers, and electronic waste, as well as identify training activities that will expand the American manufacturing workforce.”  The projects will be managed by DOE’s Reducing Embodied-Energy and Decreasing Emissions (REMADE) Institute, which is funded by DOE EERE’s Advanced Manufacturing Office.


 

By  Lynn L. Bergeson and Ligia Duarte Botelho, M.A.

National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) researchers are leading analyses of recycling, repairing, and reusing solar photovoltaic (PV) installations in support of NREL’s mission to incentivize a circular economy for energy materials.  According to NREL, the increase in the installation of PV systems is leading to environmental and supply chain concerns because the technology relies on imports and mining of raw materials to meet domestic demands.  NREL predicts that, by 2030, decommissioned PV modules could total a million tons of waste in the United States or one percent of the world’s e-waste.  Concerned by these facts, NREL researchers have been leading ongoing analyses of the end-of-life management of PV modules in the current market.  Taylor Curtis, an NREL sustainability analyst, highlights that “[r]epair, reuse, or recovery of this equipment would reduce negative environmental impacts, reduce resource constraints, and stimulate U.S. economic growth.”
 
According to NREL research, if best practices are applied and regulatory barriers removed in the future, the U.S. industry for recovered PV materials could total $60 million by 2030 or $2 billion by 2050, from modules alone.  A summary of NREL’s recommended best practices for retiring PV systems is detailed in this report, and a detailed analysis of current federal and state regulatory barriers to PV module recycling and recovery is available in NREL’s March 2021 report titled “Solar Photovoltaic Module Recycling: A Survey of U.S. Policies and Initiatives.”


 

By Lynn L. Bergeson 

On February 23, 2021, the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (EU-OSHA) announced that in association with other relevant Directorates-General (DG) of the European Commission (EC), DG Environment has opened a call for applications to select members for an expert group, the High-Level Roundtable on Implementation of the Chemicals Strategy for Sustainability. According to EU-OSHA, the expert group’s mission “is to set the Chemicals Strategy for Sustainability objectives and monitor its implementation in dialogue with the stakeholders concerned.” Specific tasks include contributing to identifying and addressing social, economic, and cultural barriers to the transition toward safe and sustainable chemicals. The expert group will act as a core group of ambassadors to facilitate discussions and promote this transition in the economy and society, developing a regular exchange of views, experiences, and good practices between the EC and stakeholders on the main objectives of the Strategy, namely:

  • Innovating for safe and sustainable chemicals, including for materials and products;
     
  • Addressing pressing environmental and health concerns;
     
  • Simplifying and consolidating the legal framework;
     
  • Providing a comprehensive knowledge base on chemicals; and
     
  • Setting the example for global sound management of chemicals.

The expert group will consist of up to 32 members, with a maximum of:

  • The member state holding the Presidency of the Council of the European Union;
     
  • Ten third-sector organizations in the following areas: health protection, environmental protection, human rights, animal protection, consumer rights, and workers’ rights;
     
  • Eight scientific organizations, academia, and research institutes providing a suitable balance between expertise in fundamental research, applied research, and training/education;
     
  • Ten industries, including small- and medium-sized enterprises (SME) or associations of enterprises, including an adequate representation of frontrunners in the production and use of safe and sustainable chemicals. Those should include chemical industries, downstream users (from different sectors), and retailers; and
     
  • Three international organizations -- the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the World Health Organization (WHO), and the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP).

Interested organizations are invited to submit their applications before March 18, 2021.


 

By   Lynn L. Bergeson 

EPA announced on January 8, 2021, that it released an updated and improved version of OncoLogic™, a system used to evaluate a chemical’s potential to cause cancer. EPA states that, in partnership with the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), it developed “a more user-friendly version of the most widely used piece of this system, greatly expanding its usability across the agency and the scientific community.” According to EPA, the updated module (version 9) is used to analyze organic chemicals, the largest group of chemicals contained in this tool. It features:

  • A streamlined interface that does not require expert knowledge to navigate;
     
  • A standardized reporting format that allows users to view and export results quickly; and
     
  • Increased transparency in the science behind the predictions provided by the model.

EPA notes that OncoLogic™ is one of many publicly available assessment methods, databases, and predictive tools it developed to estimate hazard to humans and the environment, particularly in the absence of test data. According to EPA, these tools and models support it in implementing programs and regulations, such as TSCA, and help external users assess and manage chemical risks. EPA states that version 8.0, which continues to include modules for fibers, metals, and polymers, will remain available to the public.


 

By  Lynn L. Bergeson and Ligia Duarte Botelho, M.A.

On December 17, 2020, the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) announced the seven winners of Phase II of the Lithium-Ion Battery Recycling Prize. The prize is designed to facilitate innovative solutions to collecting, storing, and transporting discarded lithium-ion batteries for eventual recycling. Its goal is to develop processes that have the potential to capture 90 percent of all discarded or spent lithium-based batteries in the United States and reintroduce key materials into the U.S. supply chain. The seven selected prize teams will focus on building industry partnerships to design, simulate, and prototype a proof-of-concept solution. Each Phase II winner will receive a $357,000 cash prize in addition to $100,000 in non-cash vouchers to use at DOE National Laboratories and approved organizations within the American-Made Challenges Network. The winners will also advance to the third and final phase of the prize that entails a pilot validation.


 

By Lynn L. Bergeson

On October 8, 2020, the European Commission (EC), under the European Union (EU) State aid rules, approved the prolongation of tax exemptions for biofuels in Sweden. Having exemptions for liquid biofuels from energy and carbon emissions taxation since 2002, Sweden’s scheme aims to increase biofuels use while reducing the fossil fuels use in transport. With EC’s decision, the tax exemption has now been prolonged by one year from January 1, 2021, until December 31, 2021. EC stated that the tax exemptions are not only appropriate, but necessary for stimulating the production and consumption of domestic and imported biofuels in Sweden. In addition, EC found that the Swedish scheme will contribute to the delivery of the EU’s goals in the Paris Agreement and EU’s move towards its 2030 renewables and carbon emissions targets.


 
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