HYBRID EVENT: You can participate in person at Rome, Italy or Virtually from your home or work.
Anne M Gaffney, Speaker at Chemical Engineering Conferences
University of South Carolina, United States
Title : Plastic Trash to Monomers and Intermediates – PTMI


To address the issue of waste plastics in landfills, a hybrid approach is proposed. This would use low temperature plasma pretreatment followed by catalytic cracking to augment the conversion of waste polyolefins into monomers, intermediates, new polymers and value-added chemicals.  Lightweight packaging (LWP) comprises about 50% of total plastics consumption and consists mainly of single and multilayer films and containers. LWP is heterogenous, contaminated and is difficult to recycle. Mechanical recycling is currently the only commercial approach to recycling but is inadequate to address the growing volume of packaging plastics and degrades or downcycles both polyethylene (PE) and polypropylene (PP). In contrast, feedstock recycling converts polymers to monomer feedstock that can be used to make new products that have virgin-like performance in high volume single use packaging applications, thereby creating new value chains for what is currently a waste stream. Current high TRL feedstock recycling technologies like pyrolysis and gasification are highly energy intensive, require multiple steps (plastics-syngas-methanol-olefins) and have low selectivity to polyolefin building blocks (ethylene, propylene). Alternatively, plastics upcycling aims at selectively deconstructing polymer in a one-step process directly into monomers and high value chemicals (HVC).  Consequently, it is proposed to use a hybrid approach of preconditioning with a low temperature plasma followed by catalytic cracking for conversion of waste polyolefins into monomers, intermediates, new polymers and value-added chemicals. This offers improvement in carbon utilization, cumulative energy demand and selectivity to recycled high value products over current benchmark feedstock recycling processes like gasification and pyrolysis. It is suggested to use LTP treatment as a tunable polyolefin functionalization step to increase selectivity of subsequent catalytic deconstruction and reconstruction. The target waste stream is post-industrial and post-consumer packaging waste, mainly LDPE, LLDPE, and PP films. The primary target products from this novel process are C2-C4 olefins (ethylene, propylene, butylene) which are the raw materials for bulk of the volume of single use plastic production (PE and PP). Aromatic and other HVC precursors like benzene, toluene, xylene (BTX), ethyl benzene and polyols are also expected as by-products from the process. All the products and by-products (C2- C4 olefins, BTX, polyols, HVC) can be upcycled to resins, bulk (polyethylene, polypropylene) and specialty polymers (polyurethanes, epoxy, polyester, Nylon- 6) at different market entry points.


Dr. Anne M. Gaffney is the Chief Science Officer of Idaho National Laboratory and Distinguished National Lab Fellow (2014 – present).  She has thirty-four years of experience working in industry inventing and commercializing new technologies for major chemical manufacturing companies including Koch Industries, Lummus Technology, Dow, Dupont and ARCO Chemical Company.  She has authored 155 publications and 256 patents.  Dr. Gaffney is also a distinguished Joint Appointment Fellow at the University of South Carolina (2018 – present) where she is the Technical Director of the National Science Foundation Center for Rational Catalyst Synthesis. Some of her recent awards include: the 2019 American Chemical Society, Energy & Fuels, Distinguished Researcher Award in Petroleum Chemistry; the 2015 Eugene J. Houdry Award of the North American Catalysis Society; the Chemical Heritage Foundation, Women in Science Inductee, 2014; and the American Chemical Society, Industrial Chemistry Award, 2013.  Dr. Gaffney received her BA in chemistry and mathematics from Mount Holyoke College and her Ph.D. in physical organic chemistry from University of Delaware.