DOE Publishes New Strategy for Plastics Innovation
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.