The US Department of Energy (DOE) has awarded US$13.4million in funding to seven projects aimed at developing next-generation plastics technologies that reduce the energy consumption and carbon emissions of single-use plastics.The seven selected research and development projects – which will be led by both industry and universities – will look for ways to convert plastic films into more valuable materials, as well as designing new plastics that are more recyclable and biodegradable.
‘Single-use plastics generate large amounts of carbon pollution when produced, are hard to recycle, and dirty our nation’s beaches, parks and neighbourhoods,’ said the secretary of energy Jennifer M Granholm. ‘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.’
Single-use plastics such as plastic bags, wraps and films are extremely energy-intensive to produce; plastic production accounts for more than three per cent of total US energy consumption. However, despite this high level of embodied energy, a large proportion of this material ends up in either landfill or the environment; less than ten per cent of plastics are currently recycled and, in most cases, they are ‘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.
Among the organisations to receive funding are Iowa State University of Science and Technology, which received US$2.5million to develop a closed-loop upcycling of single-use plastic films to biodegradable polymers; TDA Research in Colorado, which received US$1.6million to develop infinitely recyclable and biodegradable films for food packaging; and Braskem in Pennsylvania, which received US$2miilion to develop infinitely recyclable single-polymer chemistry bio-based multilayer films.