Combining Reclaimed PET with Bio-based Monomers Enables Plastics Upcycling

Elsevier, Joule, Volume 3, 17 April 2019
Rorrer N.A., Nicholson S., Carpenter A., Biddy M.J., Grundl N.J., Beckham G.T.
PET is a ubiquitous material because of its robust properties. Today, less than 30% of PET bottles and few carpets are recycled in the United States, leading to the majority of PET being landfilled. The low PET reclamation rate is due to the fact that PET bottle recycling today is mechanical, resulting in a devalued product. Here, reclaimed PET (rPET) bottles are converted to fiberglass-reinforced plastics (FRPs), which sell for more than twice that of rPET. When monomers derivable from biomass are incorporated, rPET-FRPs with superior properties are achieved. Supply chain energy calculations reveal that this strategy for plastics upcycling could save significant total manufacture energy, mainly from savings in associated energy from petroleum feedstocks, and could also reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Overall, this approach provides an economic incentive for plastics recycling and renewable feedstock use through the creation of long-lifetime, performance-advantaged materials.