Washington state researchers receive $ 2 million grant to invent better ways to recycle plastic waste

Plastic trash can. (Kevin Krejci / Creative Commons)

Despite well-intentioned efforts to keep plastic water bottles, wrappers and other items out of landfills, only 9% plastics in the United States are recycled. One of the big problems is that plastics are made of different materials which when mixed together limit their reuse.

Scientists at Washington State University and the University of Washington announced this week that they have received a $ 2 million grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to help meet the challenge.

Hongfei Lin, associate professor at the Gene and Linda Voiland School of Chemical Engineering and Bioengineering at Washington State University. (Photo LinkedIn)

The project involves researching technologies to recover mixed plastic waste and use a chemical process to break down plastics into their basic monomers which can be used for other purposes.

“The process is designed to meet the big challenge of the plastics industry: how to selectively deconstruct mixed municipal plastic waste. It sounds very simple, but there are a lot of technical challenges, ”said Hongfei Lin, who is leading the project, in a statement.

Lin was also the spearhead research which uses chemical processes to transform certain types of plastics into hydrocarbon products that can be used to make jet fuel or for other applications. This research is focused on polyethylene plastics, which in the form of polyethylene terephthalate used to make plastic bottles.

Lin is Associate Professor at the Gene and Linda Voiland School of Chemical Engineering and Bioengineering at WSU.

One of the downsides of chemical recycling – whether it’s recycling mixed plastics or turning polyethylene-based plastics into an ingredient for jet fuel – is that it can be energy-intensive and create gases. greenhouse and other toxic chemicals. Lin has strived to make the process more energy efficient and more environmentally friendly.

Mixed plastics can be separated manually, which is expensive, and then melted and molded into new products. Recycled and melted plastics are of lower quality, say scientists, compared to chemically recycled materials.

The co-principal investigators of the NSF-supported project are Yong Wang, also from WSU’s School of Chemical Engineering and Bioengineering, and UW’s Jim Pfaendtner, both holding joint positions at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.

About Mark A. Tomlin

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