Novel Technologies for Converting Polyolefin Waste into Pristine Polymers or Clean Fuels for a Sustainable Future

Interdisciplinary Areas: Future Manufacturing, Power, Energy, and the Environment

Project Description

More than five billion tons of polyolefin waste has accumulated worldwide over the past 50 years. The majority (90%) of the world’s plastic waste goes directly into landfills and 3% ends up in the oceans. At the current rate, the planet will have 30 billion tons of plastic waste and more plastics than fish in the oceans by 2050. Plastics are persistent in the environment and degrade slowly (>100 years), releasing toxic microplastics and chemicals into the landfills and oceans. This pollution poses serious threats to our ecosystems, drinking water, and food supply.
To reduce the accumulated plastic waste and $100 billion presently lost annually as polyolefin waste, we are developing novel methods for converting polyolefin waste into pristine polymers or clean fuels. We take a holistic approach using Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) to identify the most sustainable pathway. The specific goals are to (1) develop extraction and chromatography to selectively separate polymers from additives; (2) develop hydrothermal liquefaction methods for converting mixed polyolefin waste into clean fuels; and (3) evaluate the environmental impact/benefits and optimize processing energy and costs through LCA and techno-economic analysis. 

Start Date

April 2019

Postdoc Qualifications

1. Experience with reaction or separation methods, or
2. Experience with extraction or chromatography methods, or
3. Experience with process simulation and design software, or
4. Experience with analysis and characterization tools, 
5. Knowledge in polymers or fuels
6. Passion for protecting the environment
Prof. Nien-Hwa Linda Wang, Maxine Spencer Nichols Professor of Chemical Engineering, School of Chemical Engineering
Prof. Shweta Singh, Department of Agricultural & Biological Engineering; Division of Ecological and Environmental Engineering


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2. G.S. Weeden, N.H. Soepriatna, N.H.L. Wang, Method for efficient recovery of high-purity polycarbonates from electronic waste, Environmental Science and Technology, 49 (2015) 2425-2433.
3. G.S. Weeden, N.H.L. Wang, Speedy standing wave design of size-exclusion simulated moving bed: Solvent consumption and sorbent productivity related to material properties and design parameters, Journal of Chromatography A, 1418 (2015) 54-76.
4. G.S. Weeden, N.H.L. Wang, Speedy standing wave design, optimization, and scaling rules of simulated moving bed systems with linear isotherms, Journal of Chromatography A, 1493 (2017) 19-40.
5. X. Liu, S. Singh, E.L. Gibbemeyer, B. E. Tam, R.A. Urban, B.R. Bakshi, “The carbon-nitrogen nexus of transportation fuels”, Journal of Cleaner Production, Vol 180 (2018), 790-803