NREL : Enzyme-based PET recycling

Enzyme-based PET recycling

(Source: Pexels)
(Source: Pexels)

Researchers in the BOTTLE Consortium, including from the US Department of Energy’s (DOE) National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), Washington, DC/USA, and the University of Portsmouth, NH/USA, have identified using enzymes as a more sustainable approach for recycling polyethylene terephthalate (PET).

An analysis shows enzyme-recycled PET has potential improvement over conventional, fossil-based methods of PET production across a broad spectrum of energy, carbon, and socioeconomic impacts.

The concept, if further developed and implemented at scale, could lead to new opportunities for PET recycling and create a mechanism for recycling textiles and other materials also made from PET that are traditionally not recycled today.

The BOTTLE (Bio-Optimized Technologies to keep Thermoplastics out of Landfills and the Environment) Consortium is striving to address the problem of plastic pollution with 2 innovative approaches: develop energy-efficient, cost-effective, and scalable recycling and upcycling technologies and design modern plastics to be recyclable by design.

The enzymatic recycling process breaks down PET into its 2 building blocks, terephthalic acid (TPA) and ethylene glycol. Compared to conventional fossil-based production routes, this recycling process can reduce total supply-chain energy use by 69-83 % and greenhouse gas emissions by 17-43 % per kg of TPA. The proposed recycling process can reduce environmental impacts by up to 95 %, while generating up to 45 % more socioeconomic benefits, including local jobs at the material recovery facilities.

The study also predicts that enzymatic PET recycling can achieve cost parity with the production of virgin PET.


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