By Lynn L. Bergeson and Carla N. Hutton
The U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Bioenergy Technologies Office (BETO) and Advanced Materials and Manufacturing Technologies Office (AMMTO) will host a workshop on “Transitioning to a Sustainable, Circular Economy for Plastics.” The June 8-9, 2023, workshop will convene stakeholders for a discussion of the current challenges and opportunities in transitioning to a sustainable domestic economy for plastics. According to DOE, it will include experts in recycling technologies and processes; polymer sciences; biobased plastics innovation and manufacturing; and plastics policy, economy, and sustainability. It will feature facilitated panel presentations and discussions on:
- The current landscape of plastics sustainability and circularity;
- Industry metrics in plastics sustainability and circularity;
- Supply chain and technology gaps;
- Decarbonization opportunities and pathways to achieve them; and
- Collaboration across the plastics value chain to accelerate transition to a more sustainable, circular economy.
DOE states that desired workshop outcomes include:
- Direct connections between stakeholders across the value chain to facilitate collaborations to accelerate innovation toward our collective decarbonization and circular economy goals;
- A publicly available, DOE-issued workshop report recording the discussed problems, research ideas, and industry feedback; and
- Input to ensure the DOE Strategy for Plastics Innovation evolves with the rapidly changing landscape to reflect current needs and challenges related to plastics sustainability and circularity.
By Lynn L. Bergeson and Carla N. Hutton
Colorado State University (CSU) announced on April 11, 2023, that its chemists, led by Eugene Chen, University Distinguished Professor in the Department of Chemistry, have created a synthetic polyhydroxyalkanoate (PHA) platform. CSU states that PHAs are a class of polymers naturally created by living microorganisms or synthetically produced from biorenewable feedstocks. While they are biodegradable in the ambient environment, they are brittle and cannot easily be melt-processed and recycled. According to CSU, the synthetic PHA platform addresses each of these problems, “paving the way for a future in which PHAs can take off in the marketplace as truly sustainable plastics.”
The researchers searched for a strategy to address the intrinsic thermal instability of conventional PHAs. According to CSU, its chemists “made fundamental changes to the structures of these plastics, substituting reactive hydrogen atoms responsible for thermal degradation with more robust methyl groups. This structural modification drastically enhances the PHAs’ thermal stability, resulting in plastics that can be melt-processed without decomposition.” CSU notes that the newly designed PHAs are also mechanically tough, “even outperforming the two most common commodity plastics: high-density polyethylene -- used in products like milk and shampoo bottles -- and isotactic propylene, which is used to make automotive parts and synthetic fibers.” CSU notes that the new PHA can be chemically recycled back to its building-block molecule with a simple catalyst and heat, and the recovered clean monomer can be reused to reproduce the same PHA again.
The work was supported by the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Bio-Optimized Technologies to keep Thermoplastics out of Landfills and the Environment (BOTTLE™), a DOE multi-organization consortium “focused on developing new chemical upcycling strategies for today’s plastics and redesigning tomorrow’s plastics to be recyclable-by-design.” More information is available in a Science article entitled “Chemically circular, mechanically tough, and melt-processable polyhydroxyalkanoates.”
By Lynn L. Bergeson and Carla N. Hutton
The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) recently published its new Strategy for Plastics Innovation (SPI), which will guide DOE’s collaborative research and development (R&D) on plastic waste reduction. Four strategic goals focus the scope of the SPI:
- Deconstruction: Create new chemical, thermal, and biological/hybrid pathways to deconstruct plastics efficiently into useful chemical intermediates;
- Upcycling: Advance the scientific and technological foundations that will underpin new technologies for upcycling chemical intermediates from plastic waste into high-value products;
- Recyclable by Design: Design new and renewable plastics and bioplastics that have the properties of today’s plastics, are easily upcycled, and can be manufactured at scale domestically; and
- Scale and Deploy: Support an energy- and material-efficient domestic plastics supply chain by helping companies scale and deploy new technologies in domestic and global markets, while improving existing recycling technologies such as collection, sorting, and mechanical recycling.
According to the SPI, a lack of robust chemical and biological mechanisms limits the deconstruction of existing plastics. This is further complicated by the need for more robust processes that can convert diverse and contaminated plastic waste streams into useful chemical intermediates that can be upcycled into high-value products. The SPI states that “even when robust processes are developed to deconstruct existing plastics, the demand for plastics remains, leading to a critical need for new plastic materials that have the same advantages as current plastics but can be economically recycled or biodegraded safely in the environment.” The SPI notes that underscoring these goals “is the need to approach this problem in a manner informed by life cycle and techno-economic assessment, ensuring solutions are cost-competitive and environmentally benign.” The SPI identifies key research needs and opportunities for DOE-sponsored R&D and catalogs challenges and opportunities facing SPI efforts. DOE intends the SPI to transform its approach to plastic waste and develop new classes of plastic that are recyclable and upgradable by design.
By Lynn L. Bergeson and Ligia Duarte Botelho, M.A.
On December 7, 2021, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) published a study titled: “A Chemicals Perspective on Designing with Sustainable Plastics: Goals, Considerations and Trade-offs.” The study builds on considerations from a similar OECD report from 2018 by analyzing four sector-specific case studies on insulation, flooring, biscuit wrappers, and detergent bottles. To produce this study, OECD conducted literature reviews, interviews, and workshops with chemists and suppliers, examining the chemicals perspective on the material selection process informing designers and engineering in finding sustainable plastics for their products. OECD concludes the study by identifying limitations and recommending the following next steps:
- Identify and address knowledge gaps within scientific insights on chemicals;
- Continue to promote chemical innovation for improved outcomes for products and their operating environment;
- Integrate sustainability design goals earlier in the design process;
- Broaden the scope to include other materials families; and
- Involve more stakeholders.
The full study and a webinar hosted by OECD on December 7, 2021, are available here.
By Lynn L. Bergeson and Ligia Duarte Botelho, M.A.
On August 17, 2020, DOE’s Reducing EMbodied-Energy and Decreasing Emissions (REMADE) Manufacturing Institute announced the availability of approximately $35 million in support of research and development (R&D) that will enable U.S. manufacturers to increase the recovery, recycling, reuse, and remanufacturing of plastics, metals, electronic waste, and fibers. This funding opportunity announcement (FOA) is part of DOE’s Plastics Innovation Challenge, a comprehensive program to accelerate innovations in energy-efficient plastics recycling technologies by supporting high-impact R&D for plastics.
DOE issued a request for proposal (RFP) under this FOA for projects in two areas: transformational R&D and traditional R&D. The full RFP can be accessed here. Letters of intent and project abstracts are due September 14, 2020.
The Deputy Secretary of Energy, Mark W. Menezes, commented on the FOA, stating: “The Trump Administration is committed to advancing innovative reuse and remanufacturing technologies, including advanced plastic recycling technologies, and the development of new plastics that are recyclable by design. Through the Plastics Innovation Challenge, and in partnership with REMADE, DOE is proud to take part in the development of new technologies that strengthen the U.S. manufacturing ecosystem.”
By Lynn L. Bergeson
On November 8, 2019, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced that $12 million will be available in funds for new projects to support research and development (R&D) and education and workforce development to increase plastics recovery, recycling, reuse, and remanufacturing. Designed for U.S. manufacturers, 12 to 18 exploratory and full R&D projects and four to eight education and workforce development projects will be funded by DOE’s Reducing Embodied Energy and Decreasing Emissions (REMADE) Manufacturing Institute. REMADE was founded in 2017 in partnership with DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy’s (EERE) Advanced Manufacturing Office. The REMADE Manufacturing Institute aims to enable early-stage applied R&D of technologies that could dramatically reduce embodied energy and carbon dioxide emissions resulting from industrial-scale materials production and processing. This particular opportunity will focus on projects that align with REMADE’s research focus areas:
- Development of novel manufacturing and recycling technologies to increase secondary feedstock use by 20 percent without loss of properties or performance;
- Design of alternatives to increase recovery, recycling, reuse, and remanufacturing of products at the end of their life cycles;
- Development of technologies to separate and recover specific polymers and metal in e-waste materials;
- Technological advancements to remove pigments from polymers; and
- Provision of cutting-edge training in recycling for the American workforce and in support of the development of a new REMADE professional certificate program.
REMADE is currently accepting letters of intent, which are due today. Full proposals are due on December 18, 2019. Further submission information is available on REMADE’s website.
By Lynn L. Bergeson
On July 22, 2019, the United Kingdom (U.K.) Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs announced an open consultation for the development of standards for biodegradable, compostable, and biobased plastics. The consultation welcomes views from any interested parties to identify gaps and provide expert advice on:
- The overall sustainability of biobased and biodegradable plastic products in comparison with other materials;
- Existing relevant plastic degradation standards and how they are promoted without adverse environmental effects; and
- The design and implementation of standards for biodegradable plastics to ensure they are fully biodegradable in a reasonable timeframe.
With a focus on obtaining robust evidence backed by scientific theory, direct practical experience, or analysis, rather than opinion, views from environmental scientists, bioscience or biotechnology practitioners, standards authorities, manufacturers, waste processors, consumers, producers, and certification authority experts are welcome. Consultation responses must be submitted by October 14, 2019. For further details, the call for evidence can be accessed here.
By Lynn L. Bergeson and Margaret R. Graham
On January 16, 2019, a group of global companies from the plastics and consumer goods value chain announced the launch of the Alliance to End Plastic Waste (AEPW), which will advance solutions to eliminate plastic waste in the environment, especially in the ocean. AEPW membership, currently at 30 member companies, represents global companies located throughout North and South America, Europe, Asia, Southeast Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. APEW has committed over $1.0 billion with the goal of investing $1.5 billion over the next five years. The announcement of the launch states that APEW will “develop and bring to scale solutions that will minimize and manage plastic waste and promote solutions for used plastics by helping to enable a circular economy.” AEPW is a not-for-profit organization that includes companies that make, use, sell, process, collect, and recycle plastics including chemical and plastic manufacturers, consumer goods companies, retailers, converters, and waste management companies. The following companies are the founding members: BASF, Berry Global, Braskem, Chevron Phillips Chemical Company LLC, Clariant, Covestro, Dow, DSM, ExxonMobil, Formosa Plastics Corporation, U.S.A., Henkel, LyondellBasell, Mitsubishi Chemical Holdings, Mitsui Chemicals, NOVA Chemicals, OxyChem, PolyOne, Procter & Gamble, Reliance Industries, SABIC, Sasol, SUEZ, Shell, SCG Chemicals, Sumitomo Chemical, Total, Veolia, and Versalis (Eni).
As part of its roll-out, APEW also announced an initial set of projects and collaborations that reflect a range of solutions to help end plastic waste:
- Partnering with cities to design integrated waste management systems in large urban areas where infrastructure is lacking. This work will include engaging local governments and stakeholders and generating economically sustainable and replicable models that can be applied across multiple cities and regions.
- Funding The Incubator Network by Circulate Capital to develop and promote technologies, business models, and entrepreneurs that prevent ocean plastic waste and improve waste management and recycling, with the intention of creating a pipeline of projects for investment, with an initial focus on Southeast Asia.
- Developing an open source, science-based global information project to support waste management projects globally with reliable data collection, metrics, standards, and methodologies to help governments, companies, and investors focus on and accelerate actions to stop plastic waste from entering the environment.
- Creating a capacity building collaboration with intergovernmental organizations such as the United Nations to conduct joint workshops and trainings for government officials and community-based leaders to help them identify and pursue the most effective and locally-relevant solutions in the highest priority areas.
- Supporting Renew Oceans to aid localized investment and engagement. The program is designed to capture plastic waste before it reaches the ocean from the ten major rivers shown to carry the vast majority of land-based waste to the ocean.
The global internet broadcast that aired on January 16, 2019, is available at www.endplasticwaste.org/live. More information is available on APEW’s website.
- Reuters, “Update 1 – Brazil’s Bolsonaro Backs Ethanol Industry, Pledges Partnership”
- Palo Alto Daily Post, “Hydrogen Fueling Station Opens”
- Plastic News, “Bio-on Deal Bringing Bioplastics to Russia”
- Bio-Based World News, “Thyssenkrupp-commissioned Bio-Plastic Plant Starts Production in China”
- FoodBev Media, “Plant-based Collagen Company Geltor Receives $18.2m in Funding”
- Bio-Based World News, “Bio-based a Possible Solution to Mastercard’s Search for More Sustainable Bank Cards”
- Global Cosmetics News, “Croda Releases 100 Percent Bio-based, 100 Percent Renewable Surfactants”
- Nature Middle East, “Focused Filtering for Gas-based Fuels”
- Local DVM, “Frederick-based Bakery Unveils New System to Turn Wastewater into Renewable Energy”
- Nickei Asian Review, “Jet Biofuel Mass Production to Begin in Japan”
- Invest in Finland, “Finland Sets Out Support for Biofuels and a Coal Ban by 2029”
- Bio-Based World News, “Biome Bioplastics Unveils New Tool to Help Detangle the ‘Complexities of Plastics’”
- Zawya, “96.9% of Kuwait’s Biofuel Project Completed: KNPC”