Chemical Upcycling of Waste Plastics | AIChE

Chemical Upcycling of Waste Plastics

Wednesday, March 10, 2021,
11:45am to 12:00pm
Virtual / Online

Chemical Upcycling of Waste Plastics


Tuesday March 10th from 11:45 am to 1:00 pm


We are committed to providing a safe and healthy environment for all meeting attendees. In light of the impact of the Coronavirus, we will be holding our meetings virtually. Please reach out to Pranav Karanjkar ( for a Webex link. 


The lecture qualifies for one continuing education hour. CEH certificates are needed for licensed Professional Engineers to maintain their license and certificates will be provided to interested attendees.



New technology is needed to recycle waste plastics and create new plastics that are more biodegradable.  In this talk I will first discuss the recently funded US Department of Energy multi-university center on Chemical Upcycling of Waste Plastics (CUWP).  The objective of CUWP is to develop the scientific and engineering principles that will enable the circular upcycling of plastic wastes into virgin plastic resins using chemical technology. The center will analyze the supply-chain, infrastructure, capital costs, total economic costs, and environmental impacts of different chemical recycling technology options.  CUWP will focus on two primary plastic waste streams 1) post-consumer waste (PCW) streams and 2) post-industrial waste (PIW) streams.  CUWP will focus on two main approaches to chemically recycle waste plastics: 1) thermal depolymerization of mixed plastic wastes followed by either catalytic upgrading or steam cracking and 2) solvent-targeted recovery and precipitation (STRAP) processing of waste plastic films. We will also develop catalytic approaches to convert the plastic-derived oils produced by thermal depolymerization into aromatics and olefins.

Many plastic packaging materials manufactured today are composites made of distinct polymer layers (i.e., multilayer films). Billions of pounds of these multilayer films are produced annually, but manufacturing inefficiencies result in large, corresponding post-industrial waste streams. Though relatively clean (as opposed to municipal wastes) and of near-constant composition, no commercially practiced technologies exist to fully deconstruct post-industrial multilayer film wastes into pure, recyclable polymers. STRAP can deconstruct the multilayer films into their constituent resins using a series of solvent washes that are guided by thermodynamic calculations of polymer solubility. We show that the STRAP process is able to separate three representative polymers (polyethylene, ethylene vinyl alcohol, and polyethylene terephthalate) from a commercially available multilayer film with near 100% material efficiency, affording recyclable resins that are cost-competitive with the corresponding virgin materials. 

In the last part of my talk we will talk about our group's efforts to create new polyesters and other polymers from biomass-derived oxygenates.  These new materials have several performance advantages compared to conventional plastics.


George's Bio:


George Willis Huber is the Richard Antoine Professor of Chemical Engineering at University of Wisconsin-Madison and director of the Center for Upcycling of Waste Plastics (CUWP).  His research focus is on developing new catalytic processes for the production of renewable liquid fuels and chemicals.  He has won several awards including the AICHE Colburn award,  2015-20 Thomson Reuters "highly cited researcher" and has been named one of the top 100 people in Bioenergy by Biofuels Digest.  He is co-founder of Anellotech ( and Pyran. George did a post-doctoral stay with Avelino Corma at the Technical Chemical Institute at the Polytechnical University of Valencia, Spain (UPV-CSIC).  He obtained his Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering from University of Wisconsin-Madison (2005).  He obtained his B.S. (1999) and M.S.(2000) degrees in Chemical Engineering from Brigham Young University.