Disruptive Technologies for the Plastics and Fuel Industry

Feb 28, 2024, 4:00 pm5:00 pm



Event Description

Biomass is the only practical low-carbon feedstock that can be used to produce non-fossil sustainable fuels, chemicals, and materials. Several attempts have been made to commercialize thermal-catalytic biomass valorization. These approaches have not been commercialized because: 1) biomass is a distributed feedstock that has low feedstock costs at a local level but requires large biorefineries (> 2000 tons per day) to achieve economies of scale; 2) biomass is heterogeneous and contains minerals (0.5-10 wt%) and silica that poison downstream catalysts and corrode or foul process equipment. I will first discuss a technology to remove minerals from the biomass called MinFreeTM. This approach has been commercialized by Anellotech who uses MinFree to prepare low mineral biomass from lobolly pine for their BioTCat technology that produces renewable aromatics from biomass.

Biomass has a high oxygen content making it a useful feedstock for oxygenated monomers that create functionality that is difficult to achieve from petroleum-derived feedstocks. The monomers include α,ω-diols, di-acids, a triol and a tetrol. Rigorous techno-economic analysis indicates that these monomers can be cost competitive and even cheaper than petroleum-derived oxygenated monomers depending on the scale that they are produced. For example, furfural can undergo a series of 4 reactions to produce 1,5 pentanediol (1,5 PDO) which is being commercialized by Pyran (www.pyranco.com).  These new biomass-based monomers are being used to create biodegradable polyesters that can replace polyolefins in packaging applications.

The last area we will discuss is how to develop technologies to better recycle plastics. The Center for Upcycling of Waste Plastics (www.cuwp.org) is developing the scientific, engineering, and economic information that will enable the chemical recycling of wastes plastics. CUWP involves 23 industrial partners, 1 national laboratory and 5 universities throughout North America. CUWP is studying three technologies for plastic recycling: 1) mechanical recycling; 2) thermal depolymerization and 3) solvent targeted recovery and precipitation (STRAP). In addition, we are accessing the advantages and limitations of the current plastic recycling infrastructure. Thermal depolymerization involves heating the plastics, in the absence of air produces a plastic oil.  We are combining our experimental data with molecular modeling to develop mechanistically based models for pyrolysis. The plastic oils can then be catalytically upgraded to different plastic monomers, alcohols, amines and carboxylic acids.  STRAP uses solvents to selectively solubilize targeted plastics from multi layer plastic or plastic mixtures. These plastics are then precipitated from the solvent and can be re-used.