DOE Announces $25 Million Investment in Polymer Upcycling Research



Projects will lay foundation to address the energy and environmental impacts of plastics

Dr. Steve Binkley, Acting Director of DOE’s Office of Science

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced $25 million in funding for 10 research projects to build the scientific foundations for new technology solutions that reuse discarded plastics to make valuable products and reduce plastics waste.

“Polymer upcycling holds the promise of boosting reuse of plastic waste and lowering the energy costs and impacts of plastic production,” said Dr. Steve Binkley, Acting Director of DOE’s Office of Science. “This research will provide insights into chemical and materials phenomena that will be critical to accelerating developments in this emerging area.”

Polymers – long chains of repeating hydrocarbon units – give plastics high durability and strength for their weight, making plastics a common component in many applications. Large amounts of new plastics are produced globally each year – over 380 million metric tons – accounting for about 6% of the consumption of fossil feedstocks. Less than 15% of discarded waste is recycled with the remainder either deposited into landfills, dispersed into the environment, or incinerated, representing the loss of starting material that could be used for more energy-efficient processes and contributing to a global waste contamination problem, including harm to the world’s oceans and marine wildlife.

These research projects will advance the science to enable approaches for chemical upcycling of polymers, targeting energy-efficient reuse of discarded plastics. Polymer upcycling includes chemical processes that efficiently transform discarded plastics back to the original material or into materials with new functionality. It also includes design of next-generation polymeric materials that can be reused efficiently and sustainably through many energy-efficient product cycles. 

The research projects range from single Principal Investigator (PI) to multi-PI, multi-institution efforts and are led by seven universities and three National Laboratories. A list of projects can be found here.

Projects were chosen based on peer review under a DOE Funding Opportunity Announcement open to universities, national laboratories, industry, and non-profit research organizations. The final details for each project award are subject to negotiations between DOE and the awardees.

Total funding is $25 million for projects lasting up to three years in duration, with $9.5 million in Fiscal Year 2021 dollars and outyear funding contingent on congressional appropriations.

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