Chemical Recycling of Plastics to New End-ProductsEPA Grant Number: U915951
Title: Chemical Recycling of Plastics to New End-Products
Investigators: Remias, Joseph E.
Institution: Pennsylvania State University
EPA Project Officer: Jones, Brandon
Project Period: January 1, 2001 through January 1, 2004
Project Amount: $74,410
RFA: STAR Graduate Fellowships (2001) RFA Text | Recipients Lists
Research Category: Academic Fellowships , Engineering and Environmental Chemistry , Fellowship - Chemistry and Materials Science
Plastics recycling becomes a consistently more pressing issue as landfill space becomes a premium and petroleum feedstocks are depleted. The direct recycling of plastics is difficult, however, because impurities from other plastics, contamination from other waste, and degradation of the collected plastics diminish the physical properties of the recycled materials. Instead, plastics typically are recycled into lower value materials lacking the structural and physical properties of the original material. Furthermore, current sorting techniques are too inefficient for economically feasible recycling. The objective of this research project is to develop a new method for recycling plastic waste into functionalized organic molecules.
The proposed process will expose plastic substrates to high temperatures and pressures of hydrogen and carbon monoxide in the presence of supported metal catalysts. The catalyst should serve to both hydrocrack and insert carbon monoxide into the substrate's bonds, thus converting plastic waste such as polyethylene to short-chain linear and branched aldehydes. Reaction products will be identified and quantified using both nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy and gas chromatography. The functionalized organic molecules that are produced generally are more valuable than their alkane counterparts, making the process more useful than partial pyrolysis or simple hydrocracking. Furthermore, the increased value of the product will make it more competitive than recycling to new plastics because the price of virgin material generally is cheaper than the recycled counterpart.